TIANJIN, China (Kiii News) - Work continues on the TPCO America Steel Mill now under construction near Gregory in San Patricio County.
As of this week, the first phase of Project "G," as the Chinese call it, is said to be about 68-percent complete. It is expected to be partly operational by late this summer, and fully up and running by late 2014.
A few weeks ago, a group of local educators led by Del Mar College President Mark Escamilla traveled to China for discussions on training the massive workforce that will be needed for that facility. They invited Kiii News Anchor Joe Gazin to go along as part of our continuing coverage of what is still the largest single construction investment that the Chinese government has made in the U.S.
It has been said that you have to "go to know," and those who were involved in the multi-city competition for the steel mill are convinced that spending time in China was a crucial factor in winning the project for the Coastal Bend.
Actually, local officials learned during their most recent visit that the decision to build the plant in South Texas was pretty much already made by 2008, even as South Texas leaders were in the midst of their sales pitch. TPCO Vice President Zhang Wenfeng said the decision was based on three main factors.
"Right place, right time and right people. And certainly right people are most important, so we think in our choice of Corpus Christi for this project, we have all three right," Wenfeng said.
Now that construction is well underway, the focus turns to filling the need for qualified and well-trained workers. That was the purpose of the most recent trip.
Aside from Project Manager J.J. Johnston and Del Mar President Mark Escamilla, the delegation included Lenora Keas, also representing Del Mar College, Dr. Anne Matula, president of the Craft Training Center of the Coastal Bend, and Dr. Luis Cifuentes of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, who was there representing the university president, Flavius Killebrew.
As the team went over some basic talking points on the way to the massive TPCO Industrial Complex in Tianjin, China, their Chinese counterparts were preparing to give the educators an up close and personal look at how the mothership operates.
While the facility in South Texas will be smaller, more modern, more environmentally-friendly and safer for the workers, the basic operation is the same.
"I can't wait for our community and our prospective employees to come together and see what this process is like," Escamilla said.
It's all about taking scrap metal from old vehicles, plumbing, barbecue pits, you name it, melting it all down and turning it into seamless steel pipe, a product now in huge demand by the oil and gas industry.
A good portion of the groups time in China was spent in difficult and highly technical discussions about training and safety procedures, talks made even more difficult because of the language barriers. Both sides acknowledged that language issues will be among the biggest challenges as the partnership progresses.
Also during the visit, the Chinese hosts gave the group plenty of opportunities to learn more about Chinese culture and customs, including the affinity the Chinese have for fish.
Fish and seafood are a big part of the cuisine in China, but frankly, some of the culinary delights that moved past the group on the ever-present spinning wheels left our 3News anchor yearning for a Whataburger with fries.
On Thursday, we will wrap up our behind the scenes report on the Coastal Bend's growing economic connection with China, focusing on how this project is giving South Texas a golden opportunity to help improve relations between our two countries.
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