MCALLEN, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley added 2,000 new manufacturing jobs over the last five years, according to data collated by the South Texas Manufacturers Association. 

Mike Willis, executive director of STMA, said most of the growth is in Cameron County. He puts much of it down to the shipbuilding Keppel AmFELS is doing at the Port of Brownsville, and SpaceX.

Willis, pictured above, has worked for Workforce Solutions in the past and has also managed a maquiladora plant in Reynosa. He shared the latest manufacturing employment data at a recent STMA monthly meeting.

“When I was looking at the manufacturing employment data I was actually a little bit surprised,” Willis admitted.

Looking at the national and statewide picture, Willis said the U.S. in general and Texas in particular “has recuperated all jobs that were lost in the pandemic and we’re back to where we were in 2019 at our peak and even higher.”

Willis said that the United States has added a little over 200,000 net new manufacturing jobs over the last five years. “That’s less than half a percent per year over the five years, average growth. Texas, though, added 63,000 jobs during that period.”

Willis said Texas added 63,000 of the 200,000 jobs in the last five years. 

“That’s 30 percent of the new manufacturing jobs – net jobs – created by the state of Texas,” Willis said. “That’s significant. So clearly, Texas is a powerhouse as far as manufacturing (is concerned) and really job creation in other sectors as well.”

Willis said Texas is unquestionably a great place to do business. “No question that our proximity and interaction with Mexico has a lot to do with the job growth in Texas.”

Willis then looked at manufacturing in the Valley.

“I’ve been kind of been fussing for years, even back when I was at Workforce… I didn’t think that a lot of the manufacturing jobs were being (accurately) captured by the Workforce Commission and DOL (Department of Labor) as far as the manufacturing component of the Valley (was concerned),” Willis said.

“And the data I looked at now shows that the Rio Grande Valley added 2,000 new manufacturing jobs over (the last) five years. The vast majority of that was in Cameron County. So what I think is, finally the job growth at Keppel AmFELS, where they went from 300 employees to over 2,000 in the last five years as they transitioned from oil rigs to ships and also the new jobs by that, I forget his name, that Elon somebody or other. He’s got over 1,500 employees. Probably well over that by now.”

Willis, of course, was referring to Elon Musk and the manufacturing happening at the SpaceX rocket launching site at Boca Chica.

Willis said he suspects the data still hasn’t captured all the growth in manufacturing. 

“They use sampling and surveys and all that so it kind of takes a while sometimes for the data to catch up with the reality. Because none of that information is actually head counts. But, anyway, the Valley has added 2,000 new jobs. That’s 16 percent job growth, about three percent per year. Statistically speaking, the Valley is adding manufacturing jobs at twice the rate of Texas and Texas is dwarfing the national job growth.”

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio recording of part of Mike Willis’s report at the April meeting of South Texas Manufacturing Association:


Quality journalism takes time, effort and…. Money!

Producing quality journalism is not cheap. The coronavirus has resulted in falling revenues across the newsrooms of the United States. However, The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service is committed to producing quality news reporting on the issues that matter to border residents. The support of our members is vital in ensuring our mission gets fulfilled. 

Can we count on your support? If so, click HERE. Thank you!

Keep on top of the big stories affecting the Texas-Mexico border region. Join our mailing list to receive regular email alerts.

Sign-up for the latest news

By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: . You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact