WESLACO, Texas – Moving Mexican customs operations to the U.S. side of Progreso International Bridge will speed up the time it takes trucks to cross the bridge, thus creating a saving on distribution costs.

This is the view of Joaquin Spamer, president of Commodities Integrated Logistics (CIL). Because goods can cross at Progreso more rapidly and at less cost, the Mid Valley area can expect to see a “boom” in warehouse and logistics business, he predicted.

The predictions were made at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, held to celebrate a new cold storage facility in Weslaco. The facility is being utilized by Robinson Fresh, a Fortune 200 company. CIL is doing the packing and logistics.

“Why did we choose to do it in Weslaco? We love Weslaco. It has been proven time and time again that it is a great place to do business,” Spamer said, in his remarks from the podium.

Spamer said Weslaco is the location for most of his company’s business operations. 

“We have the Progreso Bridge which is going to have, with the changes they are making, the Mexican customs house and the U.S. customs house, both on the U.S. side. Once they have finished with this project Weslaco is going to boom. It is going to take off. They are going to be able to cross produce through Progreso really fast, and you have your warehouses in Weslaco. It is going to make a lot of sense. That is what we are banking on.”

Interviewed after the news conference, Spamer was asked why he made the remark about CIL loving Weslaco. He replied: “It is right in the middle of the Valley. It is close enough to the Pharr Bridge. We have the Progreso Bridge close by. We are very close to the cotton harvesting areas. So we are right in the middle. If we were in Pharr we are too far away from the harvesting areas. If we go to Raymondville it is too far from Pharr. This is right in the middle. It is perfect for us.”

Asked about the renovation of the Progreso International Bridge, Spamer said the U.S. customs and Mexican customs operations will both be on the U.S. side. “That is going to be very beneficial for the products of each country. You are going to be able to cross produce faster, cheaper. It is going to be big.”

J.J. Serrano is facility leader position for the H-E-B Retail Support Center in Weslaco. He is also on the board of directors for Weslaco Economic Development Corporation. Serrano was emcee for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He thanked Spamer for his company’s commitment to Weslaco and the jobs the company has created in the area.

In his remarks from the podium, Spamer said the responsibility of working with a major produce company like Robinson Fresh is daunting.

“The responsibility is huge, and the responsibility does not end with Robinson. Now we have 150 employees in Reynosa, now we have 60 employees working in this business venture on the U.S. side. So now we have to perform. Because if we don’t then there is around 200 families losing their jobs. So, the responsibility is huge.”

Asked about how the tie-up with Robinson Fresh works, Spamer told the Rio Grande Guardian: “We are doing the packing on the Mexican side. We are doing packing here. We are doing the ins and outs, so we are the service provider. We do the crossings. We do the export and the import for them. A one stop shop. Robinson is the owner of the produce.”

Robinson Fresh’s operations manager for South Texas region, Terry Finch, also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. He pointed out that C.H. Robinson is of the world’s largest, publicly traded logistics companies in the world. He said it was founded in 1905 and has 15,000 associates. The company operates in 146 countries and has 300 offices around the world. Finch said the produce business accounts for about 800 employees, most of whom are based in the United States. 

Finch explained that Robinson Fresh had moved its produce warehouse operations from Edinburg to Weslaco. “In 2021 we expect this warehouse to received ten million cases of tropical produce, imported from our growers and partners in Mexico.” Among the produce, Finch said, are pineapples, mangos, papayas, limes, lemons, and avocados. He said the company sells to stores like Walmart, HEB, Kroger, and Whole Foods.

Steve Valdez’s perspective

Steve Valdez, interim executive director of Weslaco EDC, also spoke at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Valdez said the cold storage industry has always been a target industry for the EDC. He then told of the small part he played in connecting Robinson Fresh and CIL.

“About a year ago I sat at a table with Allan Acosta, vice president of global tropical sourcing at Robinson Fresh and at that same table was Mr. Joaquin Spamer and, of course, after a few conversations… here we are a year later… what started out a year ago as an idea is now a reality. That conversation has now turned into a substantial financial investment. That conversation created jobs in Weslaco and a place for this particular business to grow,” Valdez said.

Valdez said the more Weslaco EDC learns about the cold storage industry, the better prepared it will be to continue growing its cold storage footprint. “The Progreso Bridge is only eight miles away. The Pharr Bridge is about 20 or 24 miles away. The takeaway for the Weslaco EDC is if a giant like Robinson Fresh can be successful here in Weslaco, we think many others can as well. They can follow in their footsteps.”

Valdez then made news from the podium. He said he was proud to announce that the EDC of Weslaco has more acres for industrial development.

“The acres that are here in the industrial park, about 400, are pretty much over grown or over sold. So, we have no more space here. We are just about to secure another first phase of 80 acres, about a mile from here. For those 80 acres we have five letters of intent from companies wanting to come so that is a very exciting position for the City of Weslaco and the EDC to be in.”

Valdez closed his remarks by saying: “I want to thank once again, Robinson Fresh, I want to thank you for partnering with CIL Fresh. You are a powerhouse team together. You have the support of the community here.”

After the ceremony had ended, Valdez gave a major interview to the Rio Grande Guardian. He spoke about the need for more industrial space in Weslaco.

“We have nearly 400 acres in the Mid Valley Industrial Park and the park is full. We have very few limited spaces available. In the next six months you will see another building going up. That will be for food processing. But that is going to be one of the last spaces we have available,” Valdez said.

“The EDC has been looking to expand. We have found two adjacent properties that are off of 1015. The first phase would be 80 acres. The second phase would be 70 acres. They are adjoining properties.”

Valdez said the great thing is that although the ink is not yet dried, Weslaco EDC We already has five firm commitments from companies wishing to locate within the first 40 acres.

“We are going to do a combination of retail and industrial because part of that property is on 1015. And so there is a lot of traffic that we get between Weslaco and Edcouch and Elsa. A lot of construction, a lot of homes going up as well. And so we dedicated the first 12 to 15 acres to retail and then behind that we will move into light industrial and heavy industrial. We are going to be seeking grants to help with the infrastructure. The infrastructure is heavy roads, in some cases concrete roads. We are looking heavily into drainage.”

Valdez said Robinson Fresh will be the third company in the Mid Valley Industrial Park to operate a cold storage facility.

“We have Colimex, which specializes in limes. They are expanding, having just purchased a ten acre tract, one of the few that are left, in the industrial park. They are building an additional cold storage facility. And there is A.W., a produce company. They have about 50 percent of their building dedicated to cold storage. Robinson Fresh will be the third.”

Asked about the modernization of the Progreso International Bridge, Valdez said Weslaco EDC is only just learning about the projects.

“Because we are strategically placed in the center of the Valley, from Brownsville to Rio Grande City and Roma, we sit right in the middle. That in itself is a benefit to the produce industry and to all types of manufacturing industries. We are especially advantageous when it comes to the labor force. It is a great drive-in community, anywhere within 30 minutes going one direction or another.”

Valdez said Weslaco has not really seen the slump other communities suffered at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We never sat still. I think because Weslaco is in the center of the Valley and we have a lot of the resources some of the target cities have. When the pandemic hit and the concept of staying home developed and grew, our sales taxes in the City of Weslaco went up because a lot more of our families were staying here. We never saw our sales taxes go anywhere below four and a half percent.

“People were staying home. They were shopping for items to rebuild their homes and renovate. The restaurant business did take some level of hit but they transitioned by doing carryout and you would see long lines of people waiting. They became very efficient. I visited several businesses in town. I don’t think I spent more than 15 minutes in line. I think the transition adaptability was really good to see here in town.” 

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a two-part series about the Robinson Fresh-CIL tie up in Weslaco, Texas. Part One features the remarks at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes. Click here to read part one.

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