HARLINGEN, RGV – Targeting the aerospace industry in the Rio Grande Valley was essential in 2015, according to the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation.

When asked to recap some of the most important events that shaped economic development in the city over the last year, leaders with Harlingen EDC said it was the emerging aerospace industry, which, they believe, is poised to define the future of South Texas for generations.

Raudel Garza
Raudel Garza

In response, the EDC began the year by leveraging the city’s assets and partnering with the private sector and other government agencies to attract new aerospace industry to Harlingen.

While the year was punctuated by planning for SpaceX’s upcoming launch pad in Cameron County, it was the announcement of United Launch Alliance extending their lease that likely made a bigger splash in Harlingen.

ULA is a 50-50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company formed in 2006 to provide reliable, cost-efficient access to space for U.S. government missions. The company, and its predecessors, has been assembling rocket parts in Harlingen for over 25 years and employs more than 200 skilled workers at its plant next to Valley International Airport.

ULA invited HEDC to join them at Houstex, a massive aerospace trade show and conference in Houston that brought together hundreds of exhibitors focusing on the latest manufacturing technologies and new interactive opportunities.

The event was especially significant for Harlingen. ULA officials at that time announced their plans to move more of their production in-house, and conveyed to the city what their plans were for the future of industry on a local level.

Through its renewed partnership with ULA, HEDC was able to understand what new lines were being considered and what new equipment would be needed locally, according to HEDC CEO Raudel Garza.

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.

“The Harlingen Economic Development Corporation believes that timing couldn’t be better to target the aerospace industry. In fact, if you ask HEDC, they’ll say that the aerospace industry will define the future of the South Texas region for generations to come,” according to the EDC in a statement.  “In the past year, HEDC has acted on this belief by leveraging the city’s assets and partnering with the private sector and other government agencies to attract new aerospace industry to Harlingen.”

HEDC officials also seized this opportunity to discuss the new Harlingen Aerotropolis at Valley International Airport.  The 480-acre park was recently recognized as a Certified Site and ready to be developed by McCallum Sweeney Consultants, one of the world’s leading site selection and economic development consulting firms.
The designation assists major firms like Boeing, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, DuPont, Proctor & Gamble and Caterpillar when they are seeking locations for new facilities or relocating operations, according to the EDC.

MSC certifies that the property is ready for development and better suited for marketability enhancement. A certified site essentially means that the city is primed for improvement of the community’s inventory of industrial properties.

“After an approximately year-long process of obtaining, engineered plans, environmental studies and researching site characteristics, staff can now report the completion of the site certification process,” Garza said. “The Harlingen Aerotropolis at Valley International Airport is considered a shovel-ready site. Our industrial development director Ramiro Aleman was given this challenge and is to be commended for the hard work in this certification process.”

Garza next attended the 31st Space Symposium held in Colorado Springs, CO in the spring. 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 was joined by Marv Esterly, aviation director for Valley International Airport, 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.

HEDC then traveled abroad to attend the Aerospace Summit in Queretaro, Mexico in September.

Ramiro Aleman, Director of Industrial Development, along with representatives from Valley International Airport and Western, LLC met with executives from the aerospace industry at a global level. According to Aleman, the event allowed them to gain insight into the industry and strengthen the collective efforts concerning the recruitment of new business to South Texas.

“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,” said Cindy Gettig, marketing and development coordinator for Western, LLC, a major developer for commercial aviation as well as oil and gas properties.

Economic activity got off to a solid start for Harlingen in January when an agreement was struck between the HEDC and Bert Ogden for the construction of two new auto dealerships in Harlingen. The terms of the agreement included retention of up to seventy jobs, creation of new jobs, and development of infrastructure facilities and equipment at its new location on I-2 (Expressway 83) and Altas Palmas Road.

Harlingen EDC Board President Bob Dunkin presented Bert Ogden owners with a development incentive check in the amount of $200,000 on Jan. 23, 2015. In return, the dealership group promised to maintain its facilities and retain new and created jobs for a minimum of five years. Under the agreement, salaries and benefits of employees remain at the minimum amount agreed upon by both entities, according to the EDC.

Garza hinted at possible continued partnerships between the business industry and the EDC in the coming year.

“We are committed to recruiting new businesses and facilitating the creation of jobs for our community as long as they investing highly or are creating high paying jobs,” Garza said. “We hope to be making additional announcements very soon.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Dr. Slade Gardner of Lockheed Martin and Marv Esterly, director of aviation for Valley International Airport, attending the Space Commerce Conference and Exposition, held in November, 2015, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. (Photo: RGG/Carl Lindemann).