Six years ago, Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative bought an underdeveloped tract of farmland in south Texas with hopes of stimulating jobs and growth in an area lagging behind its neighbors to the west and north.
That investment is paying off.
Last month, co-op leaders, alongside Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and local elected officials, celebrated the groundbreaking of AW Texas, an automotive transmission plant that will hire 900 new workers over the next five years and invest about $400 million in the area. AW Texas is a subsidiary of Aisin AW, a Fortune 500 company that builds automatic transmissions for Toyota trucks and other manufacturers.
“This new manufacturing plant will be transformative for the county and the region,” said Guadalupe County Judge Kyle Kutscher at the Nov. 4 groundbreaking in Cibolo. “AW Texas has made an exciting capital investment that will make a significant and positive impact on our economy for years to come.”
The plant is the culmination of a multiyear effort by the Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative that includes a long-term vision to turn the area along Interstate 10 in Cibolo into a major commercial and industrial corridor.
While the location was ideal, “the lack of water, wastewater, gas and telecommunications infrastructure was holding the region back from positive growth,” said Darren Schauer, CEO and general manager of GVEC, headquartered in Gonzales.
The project began in 2013, when the co-op’s economic development subsidiary bought the 159-acre tract for an undisclosed amount. Next, GVEC led a coordinated effort to line up support from other utilities, community leaders and state and elected officials. When Aisin AW announced it wanted to build a new transmission plant in one of three Texas communities, the co-op got to work: It offered to sell the land in a bid that emphasized the proximity of a Toyota truck plant in San Antonio, access to utility services and other incentives from city, county and state agencies.
“We believed that attracting the right type of business would leverage the expansion of utility services,” said Schauer. “As a major supplier to Toyota San Antonio, the site was a great fit for Aisin AW.”
One of the utility partners is the Green Valley Special Utility District, the area’s water and wastewater supplier. Its contribution includes a new sewer plant, a metering system and pipeline upgrades.
“It was a group effort because we had to tighten our timeline to meet [Aisin AW’s] needs,” said Pat Allen, general manager of GVSUD. “But we knew it would be a big benefit for the area that would spur other growth.”
AW Texas is scheduled to open next September. “With the infrastructure now available, the foundation is set for what the cooperative believes will be unprecedented interest and future growth in this area,” said Schauer.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.