RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – South Texas College is adding another 125,000-square-feet to its Starr County campus to develop an energy institute that will train its students to maintain wind, insulation and solar infrastructure.

Rose Benavidez, president of Starr County Industrial Foundation, gave a presentation at La Borde House in Rio Grande City to five site selectors from Germany on Starr County’s progress in terms of unemployment, sales tax and the industry throughout the years. The site selectors represent European manufacturers that are looking to invest in the United States. The three-day tour was orgnaized by Rio South Texas Economic Council.

Rose Benavidez

In one part of the presentation, Benavidez emphasizes the progress Starr County is making with its workforce in the oil and gas industries as well as with renewable energy and solar projects.

“Oil and gas had been bustling two years prior to [2017 in the state of Texas]. The vast majority of the workers [in] San Antonio have a significant labor force that comes from our community and our college trains oilers, our college trains pipe fitters, our college trains truck drivers and we’re all employing this industry,” Benavidez said.

“Renewable sustainable energy [also] continues to be a thriving enterprise in our community. We have about $800 million worth of projects that are completed. And we’re currently working on another $750 billion-$250 billion of which is the first solar project that would happen in this entire region that covers about 2000 acres.”

Benavidez says industrial development to Starr County has always been tied to industrial gas and energy. One other investment the county made was the first international pipeline that carries as from Texas to Mexico and feeds many of the auto assembly plants the U.S. has in Mexico.

“This pipeline can carry up to 2.1 billion cubic-feet of gas. The expectation per day is valued at about $7 million worth of product going into Mexico daily,” Benavidez said. “The pipeline is currently at about 31% capacity and the reason that has not been increased is not because supply is not available, but because we’re currently working with our Mexican counterparts for them to complete their project for it to be able to sustain more.”

Unemployment and educational attainment 

In 1990, the unemployment rate of Starr County was close to 30 percent. According to Benavidez, the unemployment rate five years earlier was close to 50 percent. Within a 10 year period, from 1990 to 2000, the unemployment rate dropped from 30 percent to 12 percent.

“Now something really spectacular happened in this community in that year and [we] got a community college. Closer to 2005 you see another five percent drop and what that did was continue to demonstrate in a 15-year period what the power of education, collaboration and partnerships can do to a community that is trying to find a little bit of light,” Benavidez said.

Starr County also had a 30 percent educational attainment rate in 1990. However, since STC was established, the community has an 8 percent unemployment rate and a 60 percent educational attainment rate as of 2017.

“This is the impact of educational attainment and workforce training has done to this community,” Benavidez said. “So it’s been a world of difference and a transformation in [Starr County,] so we work really closely with [STC].”

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a six-part series on the visit of five European site selectors to the Rio Grande Valley. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part Two. Click here for Part Three. Click here to read Part Four. Part Six will be posted on Monday, March 12, 2018.

Editor’s Note: The photos used with the above story from La Border House, Rio Grande City, have been provided by Starr County Industrial Foundation.The photos from the Starr-Camargo International Bridge in Rio Grande City were taken by Rio Grande Guardian reporter Steve Taylor.