By Olivia Varela, Laredo EDC President & CEO.
Economic Development seems to be at the tip of everyone’s tongue these days. However, for all its popularity, the multitude of facets that make up this interesting buzzword still manages to elude many.
The Laredo Economic Development Corporation, recently re branded from the former Laredo Development Foundation, has been in the business of economic development for 53 years, promoting the region’s resources and facilitating the growth of the industrial sector.
The Laredo EDC recruits and assists potential investors and site selectors, local or non-local, in a variety of ways. Our primary areas of activity are marketing and promotion o the region, site selection services, and providing data to potential investors.
Data is a key element in the services that we provide. We often work with prospects who need specifics on sites, for example, utility capacities and costs, taxes and available incentives. Our website is also geared to provide site researchers with information such as available buildings and acreages, demographics, workforce and education, ans so forth. Many of our prospects find the Economic Indicators Report listed in our website quite useful. We compile data from different sources into one report that gives an economic view of our community’s current growth and trends over the past 10 years.
Our ultimate mission, however, is it to create jobs and opportunities for a better quality of life for Laredoans.
Jobs come in many forms, whether a new business creates employment directly or indirectly through construction or consumption (gas, food, lodging) and so forth, the economic impact that is created by new businesses and industries is typically multi fold of any direct outlay of capital. Today, the Laredo EDC targets not only industries that support supply chains for the international trade sectors such as manufacturing (medical devices and health services, electronic, automotive and others), maintenance, repair and overhaul operations and varied commercial developments, but we are actively working with investors that can bring diversity and sustainable growth into our local economy.
Our city’s unique location at the center of the North American corridor for commerce, IH-35, provides an organic attraction for the transportation, logistics, and distribution industry. Laredo’s strategic importance and crowning achievement as the No. 1 port in the United States, handling $236 Billion as a single port speaks of high efficiencies in cross border trade. Being the top exporters to Mexico the last four consecutive years with an average annual growth in exports of over 7 percent per year speaks of many opportunities for the establishment of non-transportation import/export businesses.
Laredo has had a surge in development, coming in strong in the 4th quarter of 2018, and even stronger the first five months of 2019. In 2018, the warehousing sector added over one million square feel of new construction with permit values of almost $7 million. Through the first five months of 2019, January through May, Laredo is tracking that same amount of square footage with a construction permit value over $55 million. Note that this amount only denotes permit values and not the total amount of direct capital investment.
The benefits of our location are readily evident in the unceasing demand for logistics and warehousing inventory. However, we are also seeing a fair amount of development for storage and distribution in industries that have typically been the stronger domain of other regions of South Texas and other states. Growth in sectors such as agriculture, primarily in perishables such as tomatoes, avocados, and beef are a direct result of investment by private developers in refrigerated warehousing. U.S. Cold Storage, which maintains the largest capacity of refrigerated space to date, has undergone two expansions in the past five years, adding over 200,000 sf. of space to their original building. The growth in this industry continues, spurred by investors adding capacity for the refrigerated and non-refrigerated storage and distribution that is attracting new companies.
The Laredo EDC has visited produce growers in Canada and Michigan that ship into Mexico through less direct routes than our I35 corridor, giving us an opportunity to successfully present the advantages and cost efficiencies of the Port Laredo route.
The uncertainties of an idle free trade agreement and imposition of taxes have not yet deterred the amount of trade handled by this port of entry. New logistics and transportation companies continue to flock to Laredo, with expansions and consolidations leading much of this industry’s growth in the past year and giving way for the development of four new industrial parks. As technologies intensify competition and force companies toward greater efficiencies, we expect to see continued growth through expansions. Our local medical devices industry, with a capital investment upwards of $40 million, has added 300 jobs in the last two years in Laredo with future expansion in the works. A new tire recycling company has added a manufacturing component: our ever-strong call center employing 1,200 also on growth trajectory are but a few examples of growing sectors of employment outside of logistics. Commercial development throughout all sections of the city and county has also been strong through the first five months of the year, tracking almost $30 million in building permit values, up to $3.5 million in permits for the same period last year.