RAYMONDVILLE — A federally funded shelter to house up to 500 migrant children and create as many as 600 jobs is expected to pump millions of dollars into this farming area struggling with one of Texas’ highest jobless rates.
San Benito-based Sunny Glen Children’s Home will operate the New Day Resiliency Center, expected to open around December at the site of the former Walmart store, a 100,000-square-foot building just south of town at 14091 FM 490.
The project is hailed as the city’s biggest economic boon in years in the area still reeling from the closure of the 3,000-bed Willacy County Correctional Center, which laid off 400 employees in early 2015.
“I feel excited with all the jobs it’s going to create,” Mayor Gilbert Gonzales said. “It’s going to be a boost for the economy.”
Sunny Glen, which has housed abused and neglected children in San Benito since 1936, will operate the shelter with a projected annual payroll of $20 million to $24 million.
Sunny Glen is contracting with the federal government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement to house migrant children detained without parents or guardians in the United States.
“We’ll be running the program. We will be providing all the services for the children,” Chase Palmer, Sunny Glen’s executive director, said. “We’re very excited about the opportunity to help more children, particularly a population in many ways underserved and marginalized. We want to help children in need and provide a safe place of shelter.”
Meanwhile, a new company named SOG International will help staff the shelter.
Weslaco-based SOG International includes President and Chief Executive Officer Wayne Lowry, former executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Rio Grande Valley; businessman Joaquin Spamer, who owns the former Walmart building; and McAllen attorney Luis Cantu.
“We’re providing staffing services and operational support,” Lowry said. “This is a new step for me to work in this industry. The reality is there are a lot of hurting kids in need of care and attention coming across the border.”
The shelter will hire a wide range of employees, including nurses, nursing assistants, teachers and counselors, with wages starting at about $12 to $14 an hour, City Commissioner Edward Gonzalez said.
“You’re making more than minimum wage — that’s huge,” Gonzalez said, noting many area jobs pay minimum wage. “This means there will be meaningful jobs, not only for the citizens of Raymondville but the entire Willacy County. It’s an enormous amount of jobs at different levels, for folks with college degrees, high school degrees and GEDs.”
Officials expect the shelter to draw new businesses to help service the center.
“We’re going to see a lot more economic impact,” Gonzalez said. “A lot of different businesses can grow out of this.”
Employees are expected to pump new money into the local economy.
“It’s going to have an influx of workers with disposable income,” Gonzalez said. “You’re going to have a lot of folks eating out at restaurants, shopping at H-E-B, gassing up at Stripes and utilizing all of our four banks.”
At City Hall, officials are projecting the shelter will generate about $120,000 a year in water and sewer revenue, the mayor said.
To jump-start the operation, the shelter is borrowing $3 million, Gonzales said.
As collateral, he said, the city, over a two-year period, will put up 50 acres behind the El Valle Detention Center off State Highway 186.
As part of an agreement, he said, the city’s Economic Development Corporation will give the shelter $25,000 a year during a three-year period.
How we got here
Since last November, city officials have been working to land the shelter, the mayor said.
In January 2016, the city’s Walmart Supercenter closed, laying off 149 employees.
About a year later, Spamer, owner of Mission-based Ci Logistics, or CiL, the largest distributor of U.S. cotton in Mexico, bought the former Walmart building, turning it into a warehouse to serve Willacy County cotton growers.
By the Numbers
Up to 500 — Children to be housed
Up to 600 — New jobs
$20-$24 million — Projected annual payroll
100,000 — Square footage of building