Rio Grande LNG is committed to being a good neighbor and corporate citizen, a commitment which has motivated us to engage with the community – building connections, bridging divides and working to solve challenges that not only affect us, but everyone.

Last month we were delighted to announce a partnership with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, an important step of a bigger purpose.

As the largest proposed private investment in Texas, the potential for the Rio Grande Valley to benefit is tremendous, but in order to maximize those potential benefits we must work with individuals and groups throughout the community, while at the same time addressing and resolving any challenges that may exist.

This commitment has led to Rio Grande LNG focusing on several avenues – workforce development, business development, and environmental responsibility – to ensure the Rio Grande Valley can benefit the most from our project without adversely impacting it.

Some have asked us why we hosted 5 business workshops in April, questioning the motivation for such activities more than a year from our anticipated construction start date. The answer is simple, if we wait, local businesses will not be prepared and contracts will unnecessarily have to go to companies outside the valley. With the assistance of the local U.S. Small Business Administration, the UTRGV Small Business Development Center, and the local chambers of commerce, we were able to directly reach more than 250 businesses from across the valley, and importantly provide information and access to local resources that can help them grow their businesses and hopefully participate in our project in the future.

Similarly, some have questioned the motivation behind our recent partnership with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, but those questioning appear to misunderstand this partnership. As with business, in order to maximize the ability of local citizens to work with us, we must proactively engage with the educational and training organizations in the region so that their students will be prepared with the hard and soft skills needed not only to be qualified to work with us, but to thrive in those positions.

If we do nothing and our project moves forward, thousands of construction and hundreds of permanent well-paying jobs, jobs that come with competitive health insurance and employee benefits, may have to go to outsiders. We are working to fill at least 80% of our operational jobs with local citizens. This is why we have been working with not only UTRGV, but organizations and institutions throughout the Valley from the high-school level, through to community colleges, craft training and up.

Our partnership with UTRGV also represents something more, a greater vision for the valley and the role that private and public organizations can play in solving the challenges that face our region and our society. When companies and universities work together to push the boundaries of knowledge, they become a powerful engine for innovation and economic growth.

Finally, we recognize and appreciate the importance of the local environment and economy. The rigorous permitting process that we are currently progressing in ensures that our project protects the health and safety of the community. More than a dozen federal, state and local agencies are involved in this extremely important process. That said, we have broader ambitions to create significant net benefits to the environment through our mitigation activities and continue to find ways to reduce our footprint and our visual impact so that we can coexist, just as many other ports operate around the world do, in tandem with tourism, local industries and the environment.

More work is still needed – we must continue to educate, to communicate and learn from each other. We must constantly seek to improve ourselves, our project and our industry. Working together, not apart, is the best way for us to accomplish this.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or comments. We greatly appreciate your support and hope to build a brighter future in the Rio Grande Valley together.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this guest column shows UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey and Kathleen Eisbrenner, chair and CEO of NextDecade, signing a Memorandum of Understanding. NextDecade runs the Rio Grande LNG project.