A poor, small Texas border city not at all known for being a hub of innovation is hoping to become the next leader in the aerospace industry.
It just happens to be at the right place, at the right time.
Brownsville, Texas, is trying to secure a deal that would bring Space X, a private company seeking to revolutionize the spaceship business, to this low-income, agricultural border city of about 180,000. About 93 percent of Brownsville's population is Hispanic, according to Census figures.
Space X seeks a new vertical platform to launch its Falcon 9 shuttles since the company has various large contracts with NASA, said Michelle Lopez, spokeswoman with the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation, a group aggressively working to bring the company to South Texas.
The company is looking at an eight-acre, waterfront property located at the eastern end of State Highway 4, about three miles north of the Mexican border on the Gulf Coast and about five miles south of South Padre Island.
If built, the spaceport would have about 12 launches a year and bring in an estimated $80 million boost to the area, as well as create hundreds of new jobs.
Brownsville is competing with Florida, Georgia and Puerto Rico to win the Space X contract – but company Founder Elon Musk has made it clear Texas is his top choice.
"It's not for sure it would occur, but Texas is our leading candidate," Musk told Texas state legislators this month, according to the Brownsville Herald.
The BEDC is preparing an environmental impact study, which is one of the requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration for any spaceports.
The area for the proposed site lies near a public beach called Boca Chica, a popular spot which sits where the Rio Grande ends at the Gulf of Mexico. Authorities said the beach would need to be closed off for a few hours during shuttle launches.
Texas State Rep. Rene Oliveira has proposed a bill that would give Cameron County the authority to close the area during launches.
“This is such a great project for South Texas that we want to help in any way we can make it a reality,” said Tom Gray, a spokesman for Oliveira’s office.
Landing Space X would be a major economic boom for South Texas, officials said.
“We would be looking at $80 million in capital investments, as well as 600 direct jobs in the next 10 years,” Lopez said.
Economists predict the company’s Space X launch site would rake in $51 million a year for the area. The site would likely become a tourist attraction, attracting dozens of new service industry jobs, with average salaries expected to jump from $32,000 a year to about $55,000.
Local colleges and universities are also cashing in. Plans are underway to promote math and science, key subjects needed for future space employees.
"We're talking about something that's really in the big leagues here," Musk told legislators. "The commercial version of Cape Canaveral."
Ildefonso Ortiz is a freelance writer based in McAllen, Texas.