Ramiro Aleman’s plan was always to come back home to the Rio GrandeValley.

Ramiro Aleman’s plan was always to come back home to the Rio GrandeValley.

In September, the La Feria native and business development manager for the Harlingen Economic Development Corp. took a new job as director of business recruitment, retention and expansion for the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., which last year remade itself to directly cultivate industrial and retail growth in the city.

Aleman comes on board as GBIC assembles its team and said he’s jazzed about helping build the new organization. It’s familiar ground in a sense, since Aleman was part of the transfer of economic-development duties from the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce to the newly created HEDC in 2007. In fact, he was the only one from the chamber to make the transition, he said.

“I was the business development manager, so anything having to do with attracting business, marketing the community, going to trade shows — just recruiting companies to come to Harlingen, “ Aleman said.

The job entailed industrial and retail development, though five years ago he was put in charge of industrial development exclusively, working with the Harlingen Industrial Foundation, which oversees the Harlingen Industrial Park, and the Harlingen Manufacturers Association. Aleman met monthly with local plant managers to discuss issues, best practices and what HEDC could do to meet their needs.

He traveled to Austin to help advocate for an overweight truck corridor between the Los Indios International Bridge and the industrial park, a designation ultimately granted by the state, and managed the site-certification process for the Harlingen Aerotropolis.

“I basically managed the process of getting the 480-acre Harlingen Aerotropolis park development ready,” Aleman said. “In that process I learned what it takes to develop an industrial park, so I brought that knowledge with me when I came to Brownsville and it’s already paying off.”

He said he’s talking to several companies interested in building facilities at the NorthBrownsvilleIndustrial Park, where Cardone Industries and CK Technologies already have operations.

Aleman called the Port of Brownsville a gem for the entire region and said Brownsville is lucky to have it in its backyard. Construction of LNG plants at the port, if it happens, will have a transformative effect on the local economy, as will other projects the port is working, he said.

“SpaceX coming, that should bring more suppliers,” Aleman said. “It’s definitely going to bring a lot more tourism, not only to Brownsville but to the Island and to our neighboring communities. That’s going to be a huge economic impact.”

Economic development is easier said than done, naturally, and Brownsville presents obstacles for those in the business recruiting, retention and expansion business. Workforce is the perpetual challenge, Aleman said.

“Workforce is always the number one issue,” he said. “When companies come down they want to know do we have the people there that can run my machines, that I can count on to show up to work — that kind of stuff.”

The answer too often is “no,” though GBIC is addressing the issue, recently providing funds for the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley to buy machinery to train students for jobs at SATA USA machining plant, part of the Italy-based SATA Group, which launched it’s first U.S. operation last year in Brownsville, Aleman said.

GBIC is also ready to work with the Brownsville Independent School District, Texas Southmost College and local industry to grapple with the workforce issue, he said.

The state also has a program — Pathways in TechnologyEarlyCollegeHigh School, or P-TECH — to address workforce needs, Aleman said. P-TECH offers students in grades 9-12 the opportunity to complete a course of study combining high school and post-secondary courses toward a high school diploma, associates degree, two-year post-secondary certificate or industry certification, and to complete work-based training.

Gilberto Salinas, GBIC interim executive director, said Aleman’s wealth of experience makes him perfect for the job. Aleman is well suited to the challenge of “changing how economic development is conducted in our community and helping us take Brownsville to a different level,” Salinas said.

“He closely reflects the ideals of our entity, our community, and is very well connected with our client population,” Salinas said. “And in economic development, it’s all about the prospective client and how to best earn their business.”

Aleman graduated from La Feria High School, earning an associate degree in computer science technology from TexasStateTechnicalCollege before getting his bachelor’s in business administration, with a concentration on international business, from UT San Antonio.

In his new job at GBIC, Aleman said he’s right where he wants to be, though eventually he wants to run his own EDC.

“I always knew I wanted to come back and work along the border to help my people,” he said. “This is home. I wanted to come back and help the people where I’m from. I think I’m doing that by helping to recruit business that creates jobs for people here, so that they can have a good living and their kids can go to school and live a comfortable life.”