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New center at UTPA to launch South Texas as new hub of rapid response manufacturing
Posted: 04/15/2008
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The development of a world-class advanced manufacturing industry in the Rio South Texas Region is one step closer following the official opening April 11 of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center (RRMC) at The University of Texas-Pan American.

UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas welcomed more than 200 representatives from education, business and government and presided over a ceremony that included remarks from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez, U.S. Representatives Rubén Hinojosa and Henry Cuellar, and South Texas College President Dr. Shirley Reed.

The RRMC will provide research, engineering design, and production expertise to enable current manufacturers and businesses as well as budding entrepreneurs to scale production from a concept to finished goods as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

Pictured among the many key supporters gathered at the April 11 ribbon-cutting of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center at UTPA are front left to right Dr. John Lloyd, RRMC director; Dr. Shirley Reed, South Texas College president; Blas Castañeda, chief development officer, Laredo Community College; U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar (TX-28); U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez; Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, UTPA president; and U.S. Representative Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15).
Located at UTPA, a learner-centered research university, the center is one of several strategies, including workforce recruitment and training, of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research Initiative (NAAMREI). NAAMREI is a network of 47 partners from K-12 and higher education, business, economic development, industry, finance and government focused on offering manufacturers across North America, and globally, access to proprietary, world-class advanced and rapid response manufacturing.

"The research and development support provided by the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center at UTPA to reduce the concept-to-customer product time is set to manufacturing competitiveness worldwide," said UTPA President Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, chair of the NAAMREI Consortium Network Leadership Team. "Through NAAMREI's efforts our region's workforce will be prepared to fill tomorrow's jobs, jobs that provide high wages, sustained economic growth and an improved quality of life for our growing population."

Recalling the McAllen area he visited while working in his father's business in Tampico, Mexico in the 1970s, Gutierrez said he is amazed by its remarkable growth and energy.

"This is going to be one of the model communities of the future, I have no doubt about that, especially today when everything is so much about global competition and growth. Those communities that are growing are the ones that are looking forward and not looking back - thinking about how we can work to create a better future," he said, complimenting the McAllen area's grasp of the opportunities provided by NAFTA.

Dr. John Lloyd, RRMC director and research professor of manufacturing engineering at UTPA, said the center provides services and expertise to clients in four primary categories - research, development and demonstration (RD&D); education; innovation and entrepreneurship; and technology-based business incubation. It houses a staff of field and faculty engineers, student interns and support staff as well as project support space for clients in the development and implementation of mass customization and rapid response strategies.

"Customers will have access to planning and rapid prototyping systems, software resources for simulation and design and other resources available at the University. Student education and training will employ nationally recognized internationally dispersed, multidisciplinary team approaches to rapid response engineering design," Lloyd said of the facility initiated with $2 million in funding over the next three years.

The ability of the region to support faster speeds in the development, production and delivery of highly varying products was determined by the NAAMREI partners as key to the future of a globally competitive manufacturing sector and the economic development of the Rio South Texas Region said Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

"Rapid Response Manufacturing tools will provide the catalyst that will give the Rio South Texas Region the ability to face the future in manufacturing in a sustainable manner and become a world leader in product innovation and commercialization," he said.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez (center) was escorted by State Representative Aaron Pena from Edinburg (left) and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez (right) upon his arrival at UTPA for the opening of the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center.
Reed said positioning the region as a world leader in rapid response manufacturing will bring significant economic benefits to the region.

"Providing high skill, high wage advanced manufacturing jobs will raise the per capita income in the Rio South Texas Region," she said.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas legislative delegation championed the opportunity for the state to lead the world in advanced manufacturing. Their support helped NAAMREI raise more than $8 million in funds awarded in 2007 to spur the development of advanced manufacturing in the region -- $5 million from the U.S. Department of Labor's Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development Initiative for strategic planning and research, development and demonstration programs and $3 million from the Texas Workforce Commission to provide customized training to current and future employees of business and industry partners.

"We see this project as the next logical step in maintaining the economic vitality of this growing region," Hinojosa said. "The long term goal of the initiative is to position the region as the 'Third Coast,' acting as a major distribution hub for North America and as a major research center for rapid product innovation and advanced manufacturing. As a native of the Valley and a longtime proponent of this project, I am so pleased to see it coming to fruition."

Ultimately NAAMREI, which ties together more than 41 industrial parks across the Rio South Texas Region, will offer its services through a central complex, with initial construction to begin on an 80-acre site donated by the city of McAllen. Estimated completion date of this facility - the North American Research and Education World Premier Park - is 2011.

Chris Heacock, a director of operations for Siemens VDO Automotive Corp. (recently purchased by Brose), which has a manufacturing facility in Reynosa, Mexico and a distribution facility in McAllen, said he has already met with center representatives in hopes of growing his business, which last year produced 12 million electric motors, primarily for the automotive industry.

"We want to take steps to develop our engineering talent here. We want to start generating an intern program for our facility and possibly rotate them through our headquarters in Germany. My long-term goal is that we would start doing product development, application engineering and testing locally so we can run the business out of the McAllen area," he said.

Ruben De Leon, owner of Bar-Lift Inc., a local company that produces a plastic rebar support, got his growing six-year-old business started with the help of TMAC (Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center) and facilities and resources that the RRMC offers.

"Next week I have an appointment with the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center regarding a new product. They are going to do the prototype. I love it," he said.

For more information on the Rapid Response Manufacturing Center, contact Lloyd at 956/318-8955 or e-mail lloydjr@utpa.edu. For more information on NAAMREI, contact Wanda Garza, executive officer, at 956/872-2770 or e-mail wandag@southtexascollege.edu. You may also visit the NAAMREI Web site at www.naamrei.org.