Texas A&M invests in port: $30 million training facility to be built on 22 acres

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The Port of Brownsville is getting a new, $30 million advanced manufacturing training facility compliments of Texas A&M University.

The TAMU System Board of Regents approved construction of the facility on Feb. 8, a day after the Brownsville Navigation District Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a lease amendment allowing the university system to expand its existing training footprint at the port.

The South Texas Workforce Development Project will be built on 22 acres at the port and paid for through the Permanent University Fund, which supports TAMU System and University of Texas System institutions through revenues largely generated by oil and gas leases. In September 2021, TAMU and port officials announced the RGV Advanced Manufacturing/Training Innovation Now program, with an initial goal of training 10,000 men and women over two years to fill advanced manufacturing jobs at the port and elsewhere in the region.

The brainchild of TAMU System Regent Mike Hernandez III, the program received $10 million in state money, with the university system and two of its state engineering agencies, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station and Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, in charge of the program, and Texas State Technical College and other educational partners assisting. Training toward certification was to be provided in person and online in English and Spanish.

The Texas A&M RGV Advanced Manufacturing Hub opened the following year inside a 5,000-square-foot former fireworks store on S.H. 48 across the highway from Seatrium (formerly Keppel) AmFELS.

Hernandez said in 2021 that that facility would be “just the beginning.” The new $30 million facility approved this month is the next big step. It will be located just behind the existing training facility and feature classrooms as well as labs for hands-on learning. Training will cover manufacturing fundamentals and advanced skills such as “mechatronics,” computer numeric control, robots, 3-D printing etc.

The goal of the project is to develop a technical workforce for in-demand jobs, while stimulating state-of-the-art sustainable practices and advancements in manufacturing through research and innovation initiatives, according to the university system.

Jorge Montero, the port’s director of communications, said the project will create a pipeline for skilled employees that will meet the needs of existing and new industries at the port, and said having the fact that the TAMU system is committed to the region is a big deal.

“This is huge,” he said. “This has regional implications. This is across the Valley. … They want to invest for preparing the community for what’s ahead and the demand as far as workforce. How do we sustain these companies, either for expansion or the ones that are coming in?”

The new program is alongside workforce-development efforts by TSTC, UT Rio Grande Valley and Texas Southmost College, Montero said.

“The Rio Grande Valley has the fastest growing population in Texas,” said TAMU System Chancellor John Sharp. “It is critical for the success of the region and the state that practical and affordable training is available, and that’s just what this (TEEX) project will provide.”

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