Student Fellowship

Shaping a New Economic Ecosystem: Gap Analysis for Brownsville’s NewSpace City

Project Area:

Economic Development

City:

Brownsville, Texas

Reporting to:

City Manager

The Challenge

Creating more economic opportunities and improving the city’s competitive position is a key priority for Brownsville’s Mayor Mendez. Brownsville residents face the “Digital Divide,” with the city ranking among the least broadband connected in the nation. Meanwhile, income and property wealth metrics are at approximately 50% below the national median. The city’s leadership believes that the presence of SpaceX presents a potentially transformative opportunity for building an economic ecosystem anchored by the space commercialization industry. The global space industry is expected to generate an economic impact of over $1.1 trillion by 2040 (Morgan Stanley, 2020). The city seeks to leverage these growth trends to support expansion and diversification of a NewSpace ecosystem in the city, region, and country*. As one of only three NewSpace Cities (in addition to Houston and Cape Canaveral), Brownsville wants to strategically position itself, not only as a leading city in space commercialization, but also to encourage broader economic development. The number of employees at the SpaceX South Launch Site has grown exponentially since 2019, to over 2,100 employees, and SpaceX has recently leased over 100,000 SF of industrial space at Brownsville’s airport, attracting entrepreneurs and new fintech companies.  

There are some structural and systemic challenges, however, that may limit the city’s ability to take full advantage of this opportunity, and the city is looking to explore them. Workforce availability and development, for example, are key challenges. The city is looking to build the NewSpace ecosystem in a different way, from a grassroots level, by attracting and supporting startups, local academic programming, and new workforce development models. The city also aims to leverage local institutions and training resources, especially in the fields of aerospace and mechanical engineering, physics, space medicine, etc. In addition, Brownsville is across the border from Matamoros, Mexico, which the city sees as a potential asset in addressing workforce development weaknesses.

To establish the overall framework and inform its NewSpace strategy, the fellow working alongside Brownsville officials will help answer these key questions:

  • What are the key components of a successful NewSpace ecosystem?
  • Based on the city’s current NewSpace investments, what next steps should the city take?
  • What factors would enhance or potentially challenge the city’s current strategy and approach?
  • How would the city’s competitive advantage improve with more state or federal government support of NewSpace policies, programs, and/or funding?


What You’ll Do

The fellow is expected to:

Develop a summary of the current state of the NewSpace ecosystem at a city and regional level.

  • Review existing feasibility study and contextualize Brownsville’s NewSpace approach in the broader landscape to evaluate its competitiveness at state and national levels.
  • Build databases/inventories of local infrastructure that supports the NewSpace strategy (e.g., spaceports, airports, broadband, etc.) and other NewSpace assets.
  • Conduct a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of resources and solutions available to fund the City’s NewSpace initiatives on a short- to mid-term basis (1–3 years).

Conduct stakeholder needs assessment interviews to gain an understanding of what role they see themselves playing in shaping, supporting, and growing the NewSpace ecosystem at different levels (local, state, national, international). Key stakeholders include:

  • Local, regional government actors, entrepreneurs, start-ups, mid-sized and large companies, space-related supply chain companies (manufacturing, fintech, technology) and local institutions, such as the University of Texas at Rio Grande and the Community College.

Identify resource gaps (funding, workforce, infrastructure) and provide recommendations on how these could be addressed, emphasizing feasible next steps.

Related deliverables to be defined in concert with the fellow would likely include the following: An executive summary of the current state and competitiveness of the NewSpace economy; an asset inventory; a SWOT analysis; key insights from stakeholder interviews; and a summary of resource gaps and recommendations.


What You’ll Bring

The fellow will be expected to possess the following skills and experience:

  • Data analysis
  • Qualitative interviewing and analysis
  • Policy analysis
  • Writing and editing

*For example, the Texas Office of Economic Development and Tourism recently awarded the Cameron County and Houston Spaceport Development Corporations Trust Funds Grants of $5,000,000 each. The city is also finalizing the licensing for the development of an Air and Space campus at the Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport.

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