|MERCEDES, January 26 - Mercedes leaders believe they have pulled off a major coup in their efforts to better market the city as a great place to live, work and shop with the hiring of Alicia Aguilar.
Aguilar worked as director of marketing and business expansion at Weslaco Economic Development Corporation. She has now joined the Development Corporation of Mercedes as marketing director.
Richard Garcia, Mercedes city manager, said Aguilar brings with her a spirit of cooperation, leadership, hard work and enthusiasm as well as a vast knowledge in community brand marketing. “The Queen City is proud to have Alicia as part of the Mercedes team. The best kept secret in South Texas will be secret no more,” Garcia said.
Aguilar worked at Weslaco EDC for many years with Hernan Gonzalez, now executive director of the Development Corporation of Mercedes (DCM). Gonzalez said he is delighted Aguilar is joining the Mercedes team. “Alicia’s wealth of experience in community building and marketing makes her a key addition to the Development Corporation. We view this appointment as our commitment to being a leading community for investment, to live and for destination shopping in the Rio Grande Valley,” Gonzalez said.
Aguilar gave this comment on her new appointment: “I’m ready to hit the ground running and work with the community of Mercedes to position the city as a great place to do business and a fantastic place to call home.”
Gonzalez said the mission of the DCM is to “continuously energize the business climate that brings customers to existing business, encourages and supports new business and embraces homebuyers and developers to invest with us in Mercedes.”
In an in-depth interview with the Guardian, Gonzalez said he wants to develop the city’s brand as the premier retail destination of the Rio Grande Valley and the Boot Capital of Texas in an effort to build on its Queen City moniker.
“Mercedes has a western kind of feel to it. It has the Livestock Show, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and it has its cowboy boot manufacturers. The western thing is probably going to be one of the stories we need to tell,” Gonzalez said.
In recent years, Mercedes has also become known as a major retail destination center thanks to Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets. Gonzalez said he wants people that go to the mall to spend more time visiting downtown Mercedes and to consider making the city home. “There are six million people who go to the Outlets each year. We want a little bit of that traffic to spill into Mercedes,” he said.
Gonzalez then laid out the arguments for living in Mercedes but, perhaps, working in Harlingen or McAllen, possibly at the new UT university or medical school. “Our location is dynamite, being in the middle of the Valley. We not have all the bells and whistles but we are close to all the bells and whistles. A realtor was telling me the other day about a one acre, two-bedroom house with a swimming pool and full landscaping. It was on the market for $150,000. In McAllen it would be $300,000.”
Gonzalez said one of the charming things about Mercedes is it is laid back and friendly. “Mercedes is a small community with a population of about 15,000, with easy access to the rest of the Valley. It is going to cost you less money to live here than elsewhere. It is rural, congestion free, and friendly. It is kind of what the Valley is perceived as,” Gonzalez said.
“Also, it has a good brand. It has a good reputation, a reputation we can build on that. We have that base. Other communities do not. We also very conservative and in today’s age that is very good. We can do things.
“I think Expressway 83 is soon going to be Anywhere USA. You see the same, repetitive, big box, brands; the same restaurants. There is pattern to it, it is all homogeneous. What Mercedes offers is something different, laid back, small, rural, friendly, congestion free, with a bit of history.”
Gonzalez said that since he joined Mercedes economic development team last summer he has discovered “a lot of diamonds in the rough.” For example, he said, Mercedes has probably the best high-end retirement community in Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club. “It has lush grounds, is highly landscaped and even has a doggie park,” Gonzalez explained. He also pointed to the Wes Mer Drive-In, which still shows movies every day. “For many people, the Wes Mer is nostalgic. Many a first kiss happened at the Wes Mer. But, it is still active." Another gem, he said, is Borderland Hardware. In other Valley cities, such stores have closed down but in Mercedes it is still going strong. It has been operating since 1919. Yet another gem, Gonzalez said, is the 1920s fire station. He held a Country Music Christmas event outside the station last month.
And then there are the Western boots. A number of cities claim to be the Boot Capital of Texas. Mercedes is one of them. Rios of Mercedes is the best known boot manufacturer in town. It has been making hand-crafted cowboy boots since 1853. A large number of its boots are purchased online and sold all around the world.
To capitalize on its reputation as a boot capital, DCM has erected 25 six-foot tall cowboy boots at various Downtown locations. The metallic boots have different university logos and colors, such as UT-Pan American, Notre Dame, South Texas College, Harvard, Tecnológico de Monterrey, etc.
“We want to push the kids to think of college, to promote a college-going culture in our schools with an old symbol of Mercedes, which is the cowboy boot,” Gonzalez said. “And, it is good for marketing. If nothing else, when you come to Mercedes you are going to take a picture of your college boot. It is a way to invite people to look the community over. People are really passionate about their schools, whether they went there or they want their children to go there.”
Gonzalez said Mercedes can learn something from the City of Hidalgo. “I remember when Hidalgo started promoting itself as the Killer Bee Capital of the World. People went to see their Killer Bee. Where else can you see a Killer Bee that size? Well, we have always had the idea of the boots, because it is natural. We are putting some legs on those boots. Instead of, say, going to a trade show in Las Vegas to try to market Mercedes, we are investing in the boots because it will have a definite return for us. You are not going to compete with the Buddha to the west, which is McAllen, who is at the same trade show in Vegas. Now, is McAllen going to put up 25 boots in its downtown area? No, it is not, because it is not who they are.”
Gonzalez wrapped up the interview with a recap on the strategy for marketing Mercedes going forward. He said it made sense to promote the city in San Antonio and Monterrey, but not China.
“I am asking the leadership here to go with what it natural to them, not to try to copy anybody else. You have some uniqueness here, boots, Country Music, very Texan. Let us go with what you know, go with who you are. In economic development you can chase the wrong rabbit. I believe you grow a community from within. Be your best, be who you are, don’t work against what is natural to you. You do not have to be big but you can play an important role in this market. If you do that you have a future. If you are not reinventing yourself from within you are not going to have a future.”