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Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants Expands Operations to Harlingen, Texas

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As originally published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition February 2023

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

The City of Harlingen welcomes the arrival of Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants. This company has expanded its operations Harlingen to better serve South Texas.

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Company officers selected Harlingen for its strategic location. When this city was incorporated in 1910, it had 1,126 inhabitants. Today it has 71,925 inhabitants, according to the 2020 CENSUS report.

Harlingen is recognized for understanding those who do business. So, when Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants decided on this expansion, the City of Harlingen, the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, and the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce welcomed them with open arms.

Ford Smith, President of Texas Enterprises Inc., Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants’ parent company told Texas Border Business in Exclusivity that he is the fourth generation managing the company. “My great-grandfather started a fuel distribution business in Houston in 1919, and from there, my father, who went to the University of Texas, ended up staying in Austin,” he said. “We started a business in Austin, so it was Houston, Austin, and then we expanded into San Antonio, and in the early nineties, we expanded into Corpus Chishti. We expanded to the Valley ten years ago by purchasing Star-Tex Petroleum Corporation,” Smith said.

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It was no secret, their move to Harlingen was because of its privileged location. Smith said, “Harlingen being in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley, and all the economic activity going on will give us a shot in the arm and improve our logistics tremendously for the entire region.” 

(Center L-R): Ford Smith, Jr. president of Texas Enterprises Inc., the parent company of Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants, cut the ribbon along with Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda. They were joined in the celebration by representatives of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation and of the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Noah Mangum

Smith said they are primarily lubricant distributors, offering a full range of lubricant products to a diverse customer base. “We sell to car dealers, lube centers, and all kinds of trucking companies, which is very important to the economic success of the Valley.” He said, “On top of that, we have a lot of industrial customers in the Port of Brownsville, shipbuilders, and refineries.” He also pointed out that they are serving the needs of wind farms, making theirs a very diverse customer base. “We also have a commercial fuel business that sells to farmers, trucking companies, the traditional users of fuel.”

With all the services and products, they provide, Smith says that they are a one-stop shop for customers consuming fuels and lubricants. He added, “We’re constantly looking for products we can bring into our new facility in Harlingen.”

Smith is very familiar with the Rio Grande Valley. “I’ve been coming here since I was growing up. I have great memories of white-wing hunts along the Rio Grande. We used to hunt north of Harlingen and at the Burns Farm for years.”

Smith was born and raised in Austin, Texas, where his headquarters are located. Since Smith knows the Valley, he recognizes that the area has grown exponentially. “The Rio Grande Valley is one of the great hidden assets for Texas.” He said, “Many times, people that live outside the area don’t appreciate and do not know its economic vitality until you visit in person.”

Texas Enterprises Inc., Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants is a family business started by his great-grandfather in 1921. “My great-grandfather had one daughter who my grandfather married. So, he came into the business in the late forties then or right before World War II. Then my dad and uncle came into the business in the mid-fifties, and then my generation, I became involved in the mid-eighties,” he said.

Q: Who’s coming after you? A: My son William Ford Smith, and I have a nephew. My son has been with us for about 18 months. He is a graduate of the University of Colorado.” He said, “My nephew Bill Netherton, IV is my sister’s son, who is also with us, and he runs our retail fuels division.”

Harlingen Mayor Norma Sepulveda welcomed the new company, “We are all here to serve the people collectively and it’s with those partners that make Harlingen great, and it is like individuals like this business coming to invest in our community that will help us grow and thrive even more.”

Mayor Sepulveda attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony of Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants, pointing out the following, “We are incredibly blessed that you are here and that you’ve taken a chance on Harlingen. You are not going to be disappointed.”

Texas Enterprises Inc., Kapalua Marine Fuels, and Lubricants have committed to operating from this Harlingen location. By the time it is all done, they will have invested about 3.5 million dollars; that includes building cost, infrastructure, and inventory. The Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, the Harlingen Economic Development, and city officials all got together to welcome Kapalua Marine Fuels and Lubricants.

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