MCALLEN, RGV – The South Texas Manufacturers Association will be holding its 25th anniversary celebration on October 19.

At the event, the group will announce its 2017 STMA scholarship recipients as well as honor member companies that have been in operation for 25 or more years.

Bryan Daniel, the executive director of the Economic Development and Tourism Division of the Governor’s Office of Texas, will be the keynote speaker. Daniel is slated to provide an overview of the tremendous growth Texas has experienced in recent years, and discuss opportunities for the South Texas region to continue to benefit going forward.

Ron Garza, executive director of the Lower RGV Development Council, will emcee the event. Music during the cocktail hour will be provided by “Spikes Unplugged” and during the dinner hour by “Spikes On The Road.”

Mike Willis, executive director of the STMA, said he would rather not mention the location of the event because it is not open to the public and it is already a sell-out. Willis said the 29 companies that will be honored at the event – some with plants on both sides of the border – exemplify the mutual benefit of trade and manufacturing to South Texas-Tamaulipas region.

“Three of these companies manufacture in Tamaulipas, another eight have operations in both South Texas and Tamaulipas, and 18 of them have their manufacturing operations in the Rio Grande Valley. This shows clearly how both Mexico and the United States benefit from Free Trade,” Willis told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Willis said the high school seniors receiving scholarships from STMA represent the future of the industry. He pointed out that each of the students attained their certification in advanced manufacturing technology through a dual enrollment program offered by South Texas College. “Now, they will continue their education, earning associate’s degrees with financial help from STMA,” Willis said.

STMA, which was founded in 1992 with the support of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, has 180 members from across the Rio Grande Valley and Mexico. The nonprofit serves to promote economic development in the region and increase awareness of career opportunities in the manufacturing field. By partnering with economic development groups, educational institutions and workforce boards, the organization strives to improve the quality of its labor pool, starting at the high school level.

“The objectives identified at the inception of STMA were to promote economic development in the region, to promote cooperation with all segments of the region, to serve as a resource for cooperation between South Texas industries, and to promote and support education,” Willis said.

“And the message of this event is that the manufacturing industry provides good career opportunities for residents both in the RGV and in Mexico. There are over 875,000 Texans employed in the manufacturing industry in our state, and almost 12 million in the USA. The advanced manufacturing jobs and careers that remain in the USA require much higher technical skills than in years past.”

Willis said the 25th Anniversary Celebration would not be possible without the support of STMA’s generous sponsors. He said these organizations deserve a shout-out: Elite Sponsor: McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Platinum Sponsors: Royal Technologies, Port of Brownsville, Pharr International Bridge, BBVA Compass Bank, IBC Bank; Gold Sponsors: Amaida Machine Shop, Weslaco EDC, Pharr EDC, Logicorp Transportation, Spherion Staffing, Renaissance Casa de Palmas Hotel; Cocktail Hour Sponsor: Maquila Maintenance.

“Today, our top priorities continue to be promoting awareness of career opportunities in manufacturing, and collaborating with our workforce boards, economic development groups, and educational institutions to improve the quality of our workforce,” Willis said.

“From our organizational meeting in 1992, STMA has grown to now include 180 member-companies from across the region, 95 of which are manufacturing companies. We are a 501c (6) non-profit Industry Trade Association. We are led by a board of 15 directors, most of who are industry managers.”

The board of directors oversees the work of Willis, who has managed the operational affairs of the organization since 2003.

National Manufacturing Day

Willis spoke at Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD’s third annual celebration of National Manufacturing Day. Held at Thomas Jefferson T-STEM Early College High School, the celebration showcased the district’s dual enrollment program for manufacturing. Willis encouraged students to consider a job in manufacturing and spoke about the industry’s growth in the Valley and the significant need for more skilled workers.

“The biggest challenge we have when we talk to these companies with EDCs [economic development corporations], the first question they always ask me is ‘where’s the skilled people that we need to operate these plants?’” said Willis. “Nationwide, there is a tremendous shortage of maintenance technicians, tool and die makers, machinists, CNC [computer numerical control] machinists, CNC machine operators … a lot of good-paying jobs going unfilled.”

Trung Nguyen, plant manager of Royal Technologies in Mission and the keynote speaker, told students that manufacturing changed his life for the better and that with hard work, they could also have a future in the field.

“The advice I would give to the students … is to take advantage of it. It’s a very good program that gets you ahead of the game,” said Nguyen. “And, it helps you save money that you don’t have to spend in the future.”

Nguyen also shared that three former PSJA students are now working for Royal Technologies.

“This is why we do take our students to these companies so they can see the whole environment,” said Belinda Vargas, career and technical education pathways coordinator for PSJA I.S.D. “They see their environment at school, and now they can see … the environment they’re going to be working in.”

Students in the program attend classes where they work with various machines and different kinds of software, providing them with real job experience. Through partnerships with different companies, the students also have a chance to visit plants and see how they are run. Vargas estimates that about 40 to 45 students are currently enrolled in the two-year program to earn their associate’s degree in manufacturing while in high school. The first cohort to complete the program will graduate this year, ready to enter the field.

Manufacturing Industry Trends

In his exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, the STMA’s Willis spoke about the changes that have occurred in manufacturing over the last 25 years.

“The manufacturing industry has evolved considerably in the past 25 years. The apparel industry left the USA for lower-wage countries when NAFTA opened our markets to global competition. That sector has since been replaced in the RGV by capital-intensive manufacturing plants, many of who manufacture components for their large assembly plant customers in Mexico and elsewhere. Much of the repetitive low skilled manual work has been automated by using technology. This helps to minimize the labor cost, which helps companies located in the USA to be competitive with foreign competition,” Willis said.

“Even with the significant changes in the industry, there remain many manufacturing plants that have continued to operate successfully in our region for over 25 years. The maquiladora industry along the border has experienced tremendous growth since it began in the early 90’s. Their presence along northern Tamaulipas has helped our economic development leaders here to recoup some of the manufacturing jobs lost in the apparel industry by creating the opportunity to recruit maquila suppliers to the RGV.

“The global trend towards localization of the supply chain, coupled with the concentration of manufacturing in Mexico and the uncertainty surrounding the current North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations, is creating many opportunities to grow the manufacturing industry in the RGV. The challenge is our relatively small talent pool for many of the key positions many plants need, like Maintenance Technicians, CNC Machinists, Tool & Die Makers, and CNC Machine Operators.”

Willis said manufacturing is a very diverse industry, with a wide variety of subsectors, including Food & Drink Processing, Corrugation, Machining, Concrete Pipe, Aerospace, Steel Fabrication, Plastic Injection Molding, Drilling Equipment, Metal Stamping, Electronics, Consumer Products, Automotive, Plating, and many others.

“While the total employment number in the USA manufacturing industry has decreased over the past twenty years, the output has grown steadily. This illustrates the impact of process and quality improvement and the use of automation to lower costs, improve quality, and deliver value to the customer,” Willis said.

“The tremendous improvement in product quality and the product cost reductions, both of which have benefited U.S. consumers, have only been possible through advanced manufacturing processes and reliance on automation and technology instead of repetitive manual labor.”