HARLINGEN, RGV – Sometimes, it’s not about bringing new business into a community, but retaining what you have.

After much speculation about the future of United Launch Alliance in the City of Harlingen, the company has announced that it will continue to manufacture its rocket components in South Texas.

Raudel Garza
Raudel Garza

At a press conference in Harlingen, ULA announced that it has renewed its lease at their 320,000 square foot plant located within Valley International Airport, made possible through a development agreement between ULA, the city, and its economic development corporation.

Within that development agreement, the city has created tax rebates for new equipment being brought in to ULA’s existing plant in Harlingen. Economic leaders said it was about helping ULA save money, while keeping the city competitive.

“If they bring in more manufacturing processes, for example a new line they were doing in some other location and they bring it in-house, at least on the city portion, they won’t get charged anymore. Let’s say they bring in a $1 million piece of equipment, they are going to pay taxes on that, but we are going to give that money back to them,” said Harlingen EDC CEO Raudel Garza.

Until recently, there was much speculation as to whether or not ULA would consolidate operations at its plant in Decatur, AL. That facility employs more than 800, and it’s something that city leaders said they were constantly aware of.

“It’s competitive already with labor costs in terms of efficiency, but they are going through a process where they are looking at all their costs of manufacturing, facilities and finding out where they can save money, and whether or not they can bring in some of those components in-house and doing it cheaper,” Garza said. “I think that eventually, when all is said and done, we have made enough of an argument for them to say that Harlingen is a viable option for them to bring that process to Harlingen and grow.”

ULA’s roots in Harlingen go back more than 25 years ago when a company called General Dynamics arrived, providing aircraft modification near the airport. That company was eventually absorbed by Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

During that time, Lockheed was making rocket components, and eventually entered into a joint venture with Boeing before becoming United Launch Alliance in 2007.
ULA bills itself as the nation’s premier launch services provider, successfully delivering more than 95 satellites to orbit, which range from providing capabilities for troops in the field, aiding meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enabling personal device-based GPS navigation and tracking our solar system.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell called ULA the foundation of the aerospace industry in the Valley. The company currently employs 164 full-time workers at its facility, many of which are high skilled and high paying jobs like engineering.

“They are not just our biggest employer – they are good paying jobs and skilled positions. Many of these are engineering jobs, and so they are high paying positions that contribute a lot to the local economy.”

Tim Piller
Tim Piller

Also present at the press conference was ULA Harlingen site leader Tim Piller, who compared his partnership with the city to that of an extended family.

“We are only as good as the parts that surround us and support us. So we are really good at what we do. We are proud of what we do, and the products that we build to serve mankind,” Piller said. “For us to have this agreement in place gives us stability for the next five years to get on with the business.

“The first action is to sustain what we already have, see what our opportunities for growth are, and see if we can effectively reduce our product cost to make us more competitive,” Piller said. “We couldn’t do that without the support of the City of Harlingen. This will help us do what we do best, and that is build rockets.”