|McALLEN, December 5 - Rio South Texas Economic Council’s efforts to portray the region as a safe place to live and work just got harder.
The group is about to launch a $200,000-a-year national marketing campaign to promote South Texas in an effort to counter comments like those just made by a retired Army general who said parts of the border Texas-Mexico border region resemble a “war zone.”
The remarks were made by Ret. Maj. Gen. Robert Scales in an op-ed in the El Paso Times that hailed Lt. Gov. candidate Todd Staples as being tough on border security. Scales is president of Colgen, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in war gaming and strategic leadership. In the past he has co-authored a report on security along the Texas-Mexico border for Staples. Staples’ campaign office circulated Scales’ op-ed via email to thousands of supporters and media outlets across Texas.
In the op-ed, Scales wrote: “Sections of the Texas-Mexico border are similar to war zones our brave men and women serving in uniform face as they defend freedom in foreign lands.” Scales also wrote: “Sections along the Texas-Mexico border region are disintegrating and becoming even more dangerous places to live and raise a family.”
Click here to read Scales’ op-ed.
Scales’ comments about the border region resembling a “war zone” have angered members of the Texas Border Coalition, which represents cities, counties, and economic development corporations from El Paso to Brownsville.
“The comments by the retired major general are outrageous. We do not live in a war zone,” said Adan Farias, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition and mayor pro-tem for the City of Pharr. “I think Commissioner Staples should choose someone who lives on the border to talk about how secure our communities are. To say we live in war zone is overkill. Who would want to live in a war zone? I do not hear bombs going off at night. It makes the job of the Rio South Texas Economic Council that much harder as they try to promote our region.”
Monica Weisberg-Stewart is a business owner whose downtown McAllen store caters for Mexican shoppers.
“Do we have to be on alert? Absolutely. Are we in a more difficult time period because of what is happening on the Mexican side? Well, yeah. But do we live in a war zone? Absolutely not. If we were in a war zone I would not be living in this city. I would not be living here, I would not be raising my family here, and I would not be working here. I feel safe in our city,” Weisberg-Stewart said.
Weisberg-Stewart is chair of the Texas Border Coalition’s immigration and border security committee. She said the op-ed from Ret. Maj. Gen. Scales actually makes border security harder.
“Nobody cares more about border security than those of us who live on the border and raise our families on the border and work on the border. The major general has given an unfair representation of our region as a whole. It causes fear and economic problems and it causes resources to go to the wrong agencies. We in McAllen are safer than most parts of the United States,” Weisberg-Stewart said.
Alma Puente Colleli, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council did not respond to a request for comment on the op-ed from Ret. Maj. Gen. Scales. RSTEC’s motto is “Two Countries, One Region, Many Choices.” The group grew out of the old South Texas Border Partnership that was formed in the mid-1990s by the cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, Pharr and Hidalgo to market Hidalgo County. It was expanded beyond Hidalgo County when it became RSTEC to include entities such as the City of Harlingen and the Port of Brownsville.
Details on RSTEC’s national marketing campaign were announced to Hidalgo County Commissioner’s Court last week by its chairman, Steve Ahlenius.
“All of us realize some of the challenges we face in this region. Obviously, it is fighting or dealing with the negative perception that other parts of the state and nation have about this region. We are going to be launching a national campaign to counter some of the negative images and the stories coming out of this region about our different communities,” Ahlenius told commissioners.
“The idea is to give us an opportunity to help change that image through social media and to tell a positive story about the different successes that we have had in this area, whether it is the low cost of living or the great opportunities for manufacturing.”
Another aspect of the campaign, Ahlenius said, is to tell stories about the successes local businesses have had in attracting white collar professionals. A number of economic development corporations in the Rio Grande Valley, including McAllen EDC, have said recruiting large corporations to the region are hampered by a dearth of management executives. “One of the challenges we continue to hear from different employers is the ability to attract white collar professionals to this region. So, part of this effort is going to also be telling those stories about the success of local businesses in attracting white collar professionals to the region,” said Ahlenius, who is also president of McAllen Chamber of Commerce.
Ahlenius said RSTEC’s annual membership fee for entities like Hidalgo County has been cut from $30,000 a year to $17,500. He said the dues paid by smaller governmental bodies have also been cut. He said this loss of funding for RSTEC is being offset by sponsorship from the corporate world. He said corporations want to see a positive image portrayed for the border region and will therefore be helping to fund the national marketing campaign.
Ahlenius added that the national marketing campaign will be developed by DCI, a public affairs group with offices in Washington, D.C., Houston and Brussels. “DCI are a very-known national marketing firm that deals in crisis management and messaging. We are excited about what this program is going to offer starting in January,” Ahlenius said.