HARLINGEN, RGV – United Brownsville Executive Director Mike Gonzalez will participate in a panel discussion in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday about the emergence of industry clusters along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Gonzalez’s visit to the nation’s capital coincides with Harlingen Economic Development Corporation winning plaudits across the Rio Grande Valley for its focus on developing an aerospace cluster in Cameron County, with United Launch Alliance and SpaceX acting as the catalysts.

At the Wilson Center, Gonzalez will talk about his work on developing industry clusters for Brownsville. He will also assist in interpreting the findings and principal recommendations of a new report authored jointly by the Mexico Institute and North American Research Partnership. The report is titled “Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries.”

Mike Gonzalez, executive director of United Brownsville.
Mike Gonzalez, executive director of United Brownsville.

The Mexico Institute, which is based at the Wilson Center, said it would like to thank the Council of State Governments West and USAID for their support and for making the Competitive Border Communities project possible.

“Since the implementation of NAFTA 21 years ago, trade between the United States and Mexico has grown six-fold. It now totals more than a half-trillion dollars each year, with approximately 80 percent of that – more than a billion dollars each day — crossing at the U.S.-Mexico land border,” a news advisory about the report states. “Trade in many ways drives economic development opportunities at the border, but focusing exclusively on moving goods through the region is insufficient. To truly capitalize on the potential of the border economy, government, businesses and educational institutions must come together across the border to strengthen the region’s human capital, supplier networks, and business environment.”

The Mexico Institute and the North American Research Partnership undertook an initiative to “identify, map and analyze” key industries that are “highly concentrated, dynamic and binational,” operating within five binational sub-regions along the entire U.S.-Mexico border. “The project is designed to support the economic development work of both local communities and the federal governments in the U.S.-Mexico border region by identifying and strong candidates for cluster-based economic development efforts.”

In addition to Gonzalez, other panelists will include Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Wilson Institute, Erik Lee, executive director of the North American Research Partnership, Paloma Adams-Allen, deputy assistant administrator of the USAID’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Paola Avila, vice president of international business affairs for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Editor’s Note: There will be a live webcast of the panel discussion on the “Competitive Border Communities: Mapping and Developing U.S.-Mexico Transborder Industries” report, starting at 9:30 a.m.  Click here for more details.

Harlingen EDC focusing on aerospace clusters

Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen EDC.
Raudel Garza, executive director of Harlingen EDC.

Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell has led the praise for Harlingen EDC and its work on creating an aerospace cluster in Cameron County. Harlingen EDC Executive Director Raudel Garza and other staff members have been attending trade shows across the United States and Mexico in support of this initiative.

“It should be a focus for all of Cameron County, now that we have SpaceX and United Launch Alliance, to work to develop an aerospace cluster,” Boswell said. “I praise Raudel Garza and his team at the EDC for their work. The more people we can expose to the fact that both of these aerospace companies are here in Cameron County the more they will see there are more opportunities for other aerospace manufacturers and those who make industry components to locate here.”

Boswell pointed out Harlingen has a long history of involvement with aerospace companies, including Boeing, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. “The workers at United Launch Alliance, here in Harlingen, do exceptionally well in manufacturing components for rockets. We do it cheaper than anybody else can do it in the country. When you compare South Texas with Long Beach, California, and the astronomical cost of doing business over there, we are a natural place to come. We want to make sure everybody knows that.”

Boswell added that Texas State Technical College is a “real partner” in efforts to secure an aerospace cluster because it works very closely with United Launch Alliance. Asked about HEDC’s presence at a number of aerospace trade shows, Boswell said: “Raudel (Garza) is absolutely correct in going to these trade shows.”

In a HEDC newsletter, Garza said United Launch Alliance and HEDC collaborated at Houstex earlier this year. “The aerospace trade show and conference features hundreds of exhibitors focusing on the latest manufacturing technologies and new interactive opportunities,” Garza said. “Highlights from the trade show included witnessing the most up to date and innovative Additive Manufacturing/3-D Printers and Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) instruments.”

Garza said United Launch Alliance officials indicated at Houstex that the company plans to move more of its production in house. “By partnering with ULA (at the trade show), HEDC was able to understand what new lines were being considered and what new equipment would be needed locally,” Garza said. “The trade show also offered HEDC the opportunity to talk to manufacturers about the advantages of being located in Harlingen and their proximity to potential suppliers.”

In the HEDC newsletter, Garza said he also attended the 31st Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “The event attracted space leaders from around the world to discuss, address, and plan for the future of the space industry. The space symposium, widely known as the premier U.S. space policy and program forum, was attended by many and included representatives from NASA, NOAA, FAA and Boeing,” Garza said. Marv Esterly, aviation director for Valley International Airport was also at the trade show and was able to meet with various executives from aerospace companies such as ULA and SpaceX among others. “The conference provided a unique opportunity to discuss Harlingen’s new developments in the aerospace industry with key decision makers and site selectors,” Garza said.

The HEDC newsletter also stated that Ramiro Aleman, director of industrial development at HEDC, attended the Aerospace Summit in Queretaro, Mexico, along representatives from Valley International Airport and Western, LLC. “They were on hand to meet with executives from the aerospace industry at a global level.  The event allowed them to gain insight into the industry and strengthen the collective efforts concerning the recruitment of new business to South Texas,” Garza said. Cindy Gettig, marketing and development coordinator for Western, said in the HEDC newsletter: “Overall the experience was very educational and encouraged new strategies and avenues to take in order to reach the right industries that can benefit from expanding or relocating into the Harlingen area.”

Torres: Old San Benito Airport has great potential

Salomon Torres, executive director of San Benito EDC, stands on the runway of the old San Benito Airport.
Salomon Torres, executive director of San Benito EDC, stands on the runway of the old San Benito Airport.

Salomon Torres, executive director of San Benito Economic Development Corporation, praised Garza and HEDC for identifying the aerospace industry as a potential cluster for Cameron County.

“We are pleased to see that United Launch Alliance is getting the proper support from the City of Harlingen and the EDC as it increases its activity in the Rio Grande Valley. In San Benito we actually see a future for that. We see a great potential for developing a cluster from Boca Chica Beach, where SpaceX will construct its launch facility, to San Benito and Harlingen, home of United Launch Alliance. We believe we can provide a lot of support to this aerospace industry,” Torres said.

Torres pointed out that when San Benito worked on securing the headquarters of UT-Rio Grande Valley it referenced the aerospace industry. “We offered our old municipal airport to the UT System. It is 172 acres and still has a functional runway that can be improved for reuse as an airport. In our proposal we mentioned to UT that they would be well-advised to develop support for the aerospace industry because of SpaceX and said that our property, unlike other proposals around the Valley, had ample land and ample facilities to build for aerospace and air research activities. We saw that and we still believe we can contribute towards that.”

Torres praised the work of Texas State Technical College in Harlingen and added: “We want to work with Harlingen and Brownsville in building up an aerospace cluster that could define Cameron County’s future for the next 50 years.”

Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez
Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez

Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez agreed that economic development leaders in his county should focus on the aerospace industry.

“At the moment, the plan for SpaceX is just to have payloads. But, eventually, we will have manned flights as we implement what the government and NASA really wanted, which is private space exploration. That will bring with it a lot more industry, a lot more revenue. The telecommunications companies have a need for companies like SpaceX to go into space to service the satellites. There is a lot more growth and exploration coming as we move forward, so being in the hub, the area of the launch site, will draw more industry and development,” Sanchez said.

Asked for comment on Garza and HEDC’s attendance of many aerospace trade shows, Sanchez said: “If we want to be at the forefront and very innovative in drawing the right type of business and development we need to know what is out there and what components are necessary for space exploration. I applaud Raudel Garza and support him in his efforts because he is thinking a little bit outside of the box and getting ahead of the game. It is better to be one of the first in the industry instead of one of the last.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story was provided by United Launch Alliance. It shows an Atlas V rocket, which will lift off on unmanned space flights from 2016.