BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Did you know that the Port of Brownsville is home to the nation’s largest ship recycling operation?

How about the public education system partnering with the private sector to prepare students to work in industries?

Or that the Harlingen local district has a firefighter academy to prepare future first responders to assist area residents in emergency situations?

Such was this first-hand information presented to a group about 40 members of the 2023 Texas Legislative Tour learned during a recent trip to the Rio Grande Valley.

The legislators, some newly elected and others veteran politicians, were in several Valley cities hosted by the pro-business, Weslaco-based RGV Partnership.

During a panel discussion held at the eBridge Center for Business and Commercialization in downtown Brownsville, two area superintendents stressed the need for providing an industry-based education.

Alicia Noyola and Rene Gutierrez, the bosses with the Harlingen and Brownsville school districts, acknowledged that a four-year college degree is not for everybody.

Noyola said they give students the opportunity to prepare themselves with college readiness classes in the areas of computer science, engineering and health professions.

Gutierrez said his district has a population of some 38,000 students in which more than 90 percent are from low income families.

Nevertheless, their district puts a lot emphasis in encouraging their students to apply in dual-enrollment and to obtain industry-based certifications upon completion.

Daniel King, the executive director of the Education Service Center with Region 1, agreed with Noyola and Gutierrez assessments.

“Our public school system is the great equalizer,” he said, “and we need to make sure the Rio Grande Valley does not stay behind.”

Switching to the local economy, three panelists talked about how the area is becoming a hub for industries.

As examples of this, they mentioned SpaceX, the ship recycling operation at the Port of Brownsville and international trade.

Mark Hodgson, president of SA Recycling (formerly Steel Coast), said Brownsville is home to the largest ship recycling business in the entire United States.

“It takes a lot of skilled people,” he said, referring to the work of dismantling the old U.S. Navy ships. “We are very proud of these employees and the culture we have here.”

The four-day tour, which began in Harlingen in Jan. 26, ended in Brownsville in Jan. 29.

Suleman Lalani, a Texas Representative for District 76 that represents parts of Fort Bend County, said he was surprised to find out diversity of industries found in the RGV today.

“I did not know Brownsville is the ship recycling capital of the US,” said the new House member who was elected in the November 2022 election. “That is pretty impressive.”