BROWNSVILLE, RGV – U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker gave a big shout out to Brownsville at the Obama administration’s third and final SelectUSA Summit.

The two-day event, held in Washington, D.C., brought together 2,500 participants from 70 foreign markets. President Obama gave the keynote speech at the event, which was attended by Brownsville Economic Development Council Vice President Gilberto Salinas.

Penny Pritzker
Penny Pritzker

Pritzker visited Brownsville in August, 2015, for the official opening of the West Rail Bypass International Bridge, the first new rail crossing between the United States and Mexico for over 100 years. Her office, working through SelectUSA, played a key role in landing SATA Group’s $114 million investment in a machining operation in Brownsville. SATA is a family-owned Italian manufacturing company.

“When President Obama first took office, our country was in the midst of the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. Today, our economy is 14.4 percent larger than it was in 2009. 14.5 million more people are employed here. And, overall, U.S. economic growth is significantly outpacing that of every other advanced nation,” Pritzker said in her speech at the SelectUSA Summit.

“America’s economic recovery is a testament to the resurgence of communities across our country, including many here in this room today. And the leaders of these communities have come to recognize that attracting foreign investment is an important part of any comprehensive regional economic development strategy.”

It was at this point that Pritzker gave praise to Brownsville.

“Let me use one of these communities as an example: Brownsville, Texas, located on the southern tip of our country on the border with Mexico. Like so many places across America, Brownsville was hit hard during the recession. Activity at the Port of Brownsville – the economic lynchpin of the region – slowed considerably, and the unemployment rate more than doubled,” Pritzker said.

“The economic crisis forced local leaders to reassess their comparative advantages. After taking stock of their strengths, they recognized the region is an attractive destination for international companies, because of its highly skilled, diverse workforce, convenient access to raw materials like steel through its port, growing supplier base, and proximity to the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a premier research institution.”

Gilberto Salinas
Gilberto Salinas

Pritzker then pointed out that Brownsville EDC began working with Select USA to aggressively target international businesses – particularly from Latin America, given Brownsville’s strategic location and the number of Spanish speakers in the region.

“Today, thanks in part to foreign direct investment, the local unemployment rate (in Brownsville) has fallen from 12.2 percent to 6.7 percent. And foreign investment continues to stream into the region,” Pritzker said. “For example, SATA, a family-owned manufacturer from Italy, recently announced that it would invest $114 million in a machining operation that will create 300 jobs in the Brownsville region over a 10-year period. SelectUSA worked with the Brownsville Economic Development Council for the last two years to advocate for this investment into the United States.”

Pritzker said that while Brownsville’s comeback is remarkable, its story is hardly unique. “If you talk to any of the economic development organizations represented here today, they will tell you that their regions are also attractive places to grow a business. In fact, A.T. Kearney recently named the United States the best place in the world to invest for the 4th year in a row.”

Click here to read Pritzker’s remarks in full.

In an interview before he left for the SelectUSA Summit, BEDC’s Salinas said he expected the gathering to be a great event. “SelectUSA’s foreign investment summit is where the Department of Commerce attracts upward of about 4,000 investors from around the world. This is their main vehicle to get interest from foreign countries to invest in the United States.”

Asked if the event has been helpful to Brownsville in past, Salinas said: “In years past we have had some success in meeting with a string of companies. Brownsville can be a tough sell in that we are on the border and some companies ask us about security. But of late, what we have seen is companies are saying, well, you have SpaceX in your backyard, please tell us more about Brownsville.”

Salinas said in recent weeks he has had a number of emails from potential investors asking about SATA Group’s machining operation.

“They are saying to me, you have a machine and foundry operation coming, tell us about it. Remember, we have three great success stories in recent years – CK Technologies, SpaceX-STARGATE and SATA Group USA. These success stories are helping us open doors to an array of companies and investors from around the world, particularly from Europe, some from South America and now, a huge interest from China. We are pretty excited about who we are going to see in the next few days.”

Having President Obama at the SelectUSA Summit is a bonus, Salinas said. “It is a huge boon for us because he comes on and talks about investing in the United States. And he tells these investors how to work with us. It does not get any better than that.”

Salinas said Pritzker has “grown fond of the Rio Grande Valley” and helped the region enormously.

“When she came down she knew of Brownsville already. At last year’s SelectUSA summit we had a brief meeting. She said, we need to get that bridge finished. And she did it. It is amazing, really. Here is Brownsville, Texas, at the table with the Secretary of Commerce, helping get projects done. SelectUSA and the Secretary helped us with this Italian project, this machine operation that is now setting up in Brownsville, three hundred true manufacturing jobs, more than $100 million in capital investment. The Secretary of Commerce was instrumental in selling Brownsville to these foreign investors.”

Salinas said Texas One and Team Texas, at the state level, also deserve praise.

“We have huge support, not only through the Governor’s Office but also from his great economic development and tourism team, which sends leads our way – a prime example being SpaceX as well as the Italian operation.”

Texas One is headed by Tracye McDaniel, who visited Brownsville recently. She reports directly to the Governor. “They handle many of the leads the state gets and just recently they handed us a great lead in the aerospace and space industry. And then you have Team Texas which comprises several hundred economic development groups within the State of Texas. They operate independently of the Governor’s office but collaborate with them,” Salinas said.

Salinas said both Texas One and Team Texas are always represented at SelectUSA summits. “Both will be there in full force. Team Texas is going to have a booth and one of our duties, as a member, is manning the booth.”

Asked to elaborate on the aerospace company lead Texas One recently gave Brownsville, Salinas said: “They sent us a company that is looking at various areas. They are the space industry. But, it is very preliminary. It shows that Brownsville has gotten on the radar for a lot of these companies. It goes back to SpaceX and STARGATE.”

Asked how long Brownsville EDC has been part of Texas One, Salinas said: “We have been working with them for ten years, before the economy tanked, and we have been with Team Texas for eight years. We tell our community that they have to be patient. These big projects do not happen overnight. In the last couple of years, we have seen great results but we have been working diligently for many years. What we are doing today may not pay off for several years. That is the nature of the business we are in.”

Asked to list the projects in Brownsville that have received Texas Enterprise Fund support from the Governor’s office, Salinas said SpaceX, CK Technologies, and SATA Group. “Brownsville is the only community south of San Antonio to get three such awards. I think Corpus Christi has received one, and Edinburg too. It is not an accident. It has been a lot of work in relationship building. We have put a lot of effort into this basket.”