Italian company commits to $114 million investment in Valley

BROWNSVILLE — Project Sizzle almost fizzled.

That’s how Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. — at a press conference yesterday announcing SATA USA’s arrival in Brownsville — described the effort to lure the big-time Italian machining operation.

“Project Sizzle” was the code name the Brownsville Economic Development Council used during nearly four years of secret negotiations with the SATA Group, which makes parts for heavy equipment makers Caterpillar and John Deere as well as auto manufacturers such as GM and Fiat-Chrysler Automotive.

Rick Perry was governor when talks began, and in fact the lead came from the governor’s office. Key to clinching the deal for Brownsville was a $1.8 million award from the Texas Enterprise Fund based on SATA’s commitment to invest $114 million and create 300 jobs. Then an election happened, Texas got a new governor and Project Sizzle somehow got lost in the shuffle.

“The previous administration never signed the award,” said Lucio, D-Brownsville.

BEDC started from scratch with the new administration, winning the backing of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker of the House Joe Straus. The TEF award went through, with the Greater Brownsville Improvement Corporation committing to a $1.8 million match.

That incentive helped tip the scales in Brownsville’s favor, as no doubt did a 100 percent tax abatement, about $3.4 million worth, from Cameron County. SATA Group had looked at more than 20 potential locations before paring it down to two: Brownsville or Monterrey, Mexico.

Jason Hilts, BEDC president and CEO, said the company also was impressed with Brownsville ‘s assets: a city-owned utility, industrial park space, access to Mexico via overweight truck corridor, a deepwater port and ship recycling operations.

It didn’t hurt that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, who was in Brownsville last August for the opening of the West Rail bridge to Mexico, called SATA Group President Michele Cinotto to make a personal pitch for Brownsville.

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela D,-Brownsville, brought in Select USA, a federal program created by the Obama administration to recruit foreign companies to the United States.

The Greater Brownsville Improvement Corporation bought land for the North Brownsville Heavy Manufacturing Campus, which SATA USA will anchor, in the I-169/FM 511 corridor. It’s SATA Group’s first presence in North America, and Brownsville will serve as SATA USA‘s North American headquarters.

SATA Group, a century-old, fourth-generation, family-owned company based in Valperga, Italy, has three plants in Italy and operations in Argentina, Brazil, China and India. SATA USA will supply Mexico‘s booming auto manufacturing sector.

Lucio said landing SATA was a result of Brownsville‘s “can-do spirit.” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Secretary Arun Kumar, among many officials on hand for Wednesday’s press conference, called it “an extremely good example of people working together to create jobs.”

SATA USA‘s operation will create about 300 high-paying jobs, according to BEDC. It will be the first piece of a vertically integrated machining/foundry/forging operation officials hope to have in place by 2020. Later plans call for an aluminum die-cast operation, large plastic-injection mold, distribution center and apprentice training center with an emphasis on machining.

BEDC said the manufacturing campus has the potential to create 4,000 jobs within a decade, with a mix of European and domestic companies.

Hilts said he’s confident the other pieces will fall into place, possibly the foundry next, “because it’s needed.”

“It’s needed to make SATA more successful,” he said. “That was the whole concept when we started working on it. This complex has pieces of many different companies coming together to support a common goal. It’s a very unique opportunity.”

Hilts credited Brownsville Public Utilities Board, Brownsville’s elected officials at the local, state and federal levels, the Commerce Department and BEDC staff for making it possible, admitting it was a hard-won success.

“Unfortunately, economic development is not easy,” Hilts said. “Some people may think it is, but it’s not.”

SATA USA already has a few employees in Brownsville, recently returned from training in Brazil. The company’s temporary facility on Coffee Port Road should begin manufacturing parts by the end of June, Hilts said. Construction of a permanent facility in the I-169/FM 511 corridor should start before the end of the year and be complete within 16 months, he said.

Pietro Cinotto, co-owner of SATA USA and son of SATA Group owner Michele Cinotto, said during the press conference that he’ll be moving to Brownsville in about two months.

“We’re really proud to be part of the community,” he said.