RIO GRANDE CITY, RGV – The addition of more Customs and Border Protection officers at ports of entry boosts economic activity and leads the creation of more jobs, says international bridge owner Sam Vale.

Vale, president of the Starr-Camargo Bridge Company, gave this message to members of Congress last week when he testified before the Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security.

Vale cited a 2013 report from The National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events which estimated the impact of wait times at major ports of entry on the U.S. economy due to changes in CBP officer staffing. The study stated that adding one Customs and Border Protection officer at one of the studies’ land or airport locations would inject $2 million into the economy and produce 33 new jobs.

“Those are very good returns on investment, Vale told the congressional panel.

Vale is a co-founder of the South Texas Assets Consortium, which, working alongside the Border Trade Alliance, helped persuade Congress to allow CBP to enter into public-private partnerships to boost manpower and infrastructure investment at ports of entry.

P3s are a means by which CBP can pay for additional officer hours and accept donations of real and personal property such as new inspection booths or computers or scanning equipment. The funding comes from entities such as private corporations and local municipalities. The P3 concept was approved as a pilot program under Section 559 of the 2014 Appropriations Act. U.S.

“Private Partnerships are not new for us. We did our original (Starr-Camargo) bridge in 1965 with totally private funding. All the facilities have been built by private funds. We’re glad to see that the rest of the country’s catching up with the old style that we did in Texas,” Vale said.

Vale said P3s are a “creative response” to the concerns border communities have over staffing levels at the land ports of entry. He praised the “innovative thinking” within the Department of Homeland Security and CBP for allowing P3s to move forward and also gave credit to members of Congress such as Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar, Michael McCall and John Carter for championing the programs.

“We must point out that CBP must exhaust its available budget before it taps into our funds. They are not allowed to switch the funds. That’s something that we watch very closely and they (CBP) are very careful in how they budget their overtime money so that we can be an extra, an add-on, as opposed to a substitute,” Vale said.

The P3 program has been “particularly beneficial” during peak hours at ports of entry, Vale told the panel, referencing the high volume of traffic at Texas-Mexico international bridges during Holy Week, or Semana Santa. Vale said the cities of McAllen and Pharr took good advantage of this in 2014 and 2015.

“They put up $50,000 each. The city of McAllen got it from the Chamber of Commerce, primarily the business community and the economic development organizations and the bridge company itself. Pharr paid for it out of bridge tolls. So we have flexibility in how we go about doing what we have to do to reimburse (CBP), but it was very successful. The reference was made that it shortened wait times from four hours to two, and that makes a big difference to the tourists coming in to spend their money. These contributions are our looked at as investment, with a return on investment,” Vale told the congressional panel.

Vale said the City of El Paso has also taken advantage of the P3 program. He said the city has funded over 19,000 CBP overtime hours since 2014 and paid over $2 million to CBP in reimbursable funds.

“These options are made available because we have proven that it really works for the country,” Vale told the congressional panel. “Thirty eight million jobs in the United States depend on international trade, six million of those are associated with Mexico. More important, the private sector can’t wait until the government makes the necessary budget arrangements.”

Vale said the South Texas Assets Consortium is looking forward to working with members of the Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security expand upon the initial success of the P3 program and to “provide new and better ideas on how we’re going to go forward in funding these activities.” Vale said he would like to have better studies and projections” done on international trade based upon so that CBP can help assign staffing on that basis. “There are many other ideas that are worth bringing up,” Vale added.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story is a file photo showing businessman Sam Vale, co-founder of the South Texas Assets Consortium, being interviewed alongside the Starr-Camargo International Bridge in Rio Grande City, Texas.

Editor’s Note: Senior Reporter Joey Gomez assisted with this story.

Editor’s Note: The above story is the second in a three-part series on a hearing held by the U.S. House Sub-Committee on Border and Maritime Security to discuss public-private partnerships at ports of entry. Click here for Part One. Part Three will be posted in our next edition.