|McALLEN, April 6 - Former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez will deliver a major speech about the future of the Rio Grande Valley economy next Thursday, and it is not necessarily a rosy picture.
Cortez, who studies economic trends for a living, will talk about a number of potentially negative factors that are beyond the Valley’s control, such as the aging of the U.S. population, the federal debt, the nation’s unfunded pension liabilities, and changing demographics. He will argue that the Valley’s best economic development tool is a better educated population but that the signs of that happening are not totally encouraging.
“I do not mean to be an alarmist and I am not looking for any leadership roles. I have had my time and if I wanted to stay as mayor I would have run for the position again. I am not trying to tell anybody I told you so. I am doing this because this is my home, this is my community,” Cortez told the Guardian, previewing his speech.
Cortez said everybody in his community matters to him and he wants everybody to do well. “But, if we do not prepare ourselves for the future, then bad things are going to happen and they are going to affect a lot of people. I think there is opportunity if we sit down and educate ourselves and be as efficient as we can be with the resources we have.”
Cortez will deliver his speech, titled “A Glimpse of Tomorrow – Today,” at the McAllen Public Library Auditorium on Thursday, April 10. Doors open at 6 p.m. The event is being put on by Futuro McAllen, a group of citizens that seeks to improve the quality of life of McAllen and surrounding communities.
Futuro McAllen President Nedra Kinerk said her group is excited to be hosting Cortez. She said she hopes it will kick start an important civic conversation about where the Valley is headed.
“Richard believes that the Rio Grande Valley region must fix responsibility to someone to provide leadership in order to mitigate any adverse consequences flowing from some external factors,” Kinerk said. “He further hopes that this information will help all taxpayers realize the importance of educating our citizens. Among the external factors he will discuss are: the aging of America, the federal debt, immigration reform, unfunded public pension liability, and changing demographics.”
In addition to serving for two terms as mayor of McAllen, Cortez has held leadership positions with the Border Trade Alliance, the Texas Border Coalition, and other groups. He is a named partner in Burton McCumber & Cortez L.L.P., an international accounting firm based in McAllen. He does forensic analysis of economies, markets and industries for a living. He said the information he has gathered needs to pulled together and presented to the Valley’s current leaders – hence the Futuro McAllen speech.
“I am a technician. I am trained to do economic analysis. That is what I do for a living. I come across a lot of information, a lot of data. As I was compiling this data and I was looking at this data, I said, my gosh, there are some external factors here that are not reversible. We cannot reverse the aging of America, we cannot reverse the level of federal debt, we cannot reverse the unfunded pension liabilities that are out there; we cannot change the demographics that the United States is moving towards. Those things cannot change,” Cortez explained.
“If you look at those things and how they are going to impact our economy and here in the Rio Grande Valley our quality of life, you have to be concerned. You cannot do well with your business if people cannot afford to pay you for the services you provide. It goes on and on and on. We are all affected by the economy, so, if there is an opportunity to say, wait a minute, what if we do something better tomorrow than what we are doing today and what we did yesterday, then I think that is for the common good of all people.”
Asked what sort of people he would like to see in the audience for his speech, Cortez said Valley leaders who can affect change on a regional basis, such as county judges, state senators and members of Congress.
“Right now, in the Rio Grande Valley, who has responsibility to provide regional leadership on the issues we are talking about? Well, the mayor of McAllen does not necessarily take that on because he is the mayor of one community. So, we know mayors probably cannot. We know county judges can, they have a greater geographical area. Our congressional people, our senators; higher ups in the political world, they can. They should be looking at this thing and building relationships, developing strategic partnerships, with businesses and governmental units to provide the best environment possible so that we can all afford to live, find jobs, be able to have businesses that are good. For me the best economic development tool is educated people. That is something we are not doing well based on statistics.”
Asked if he was not treading on the toes of current elected leaders in the Valley by stepping back into the limelight, Cortez said: “The Rio Grande Valley is my home. This is where I was born, where I grew up, where my children were born, where my businesses are, where my friends are. This is home for us and it is going to be home until the end. I care about it.”
Cortez held a dry run for his upcoming speech by giving a presentation to the Rio Grande Valley Partnership at a retreat held recently at the Hilltop Inn, north of La Villa. He said his remarks appeared to be well-received.
“I believe the Rio Grande Valley Partnership is the right entity to undertake a leadership role to bring the various strategic alliances together. The first thing that is needed is to have confirmation of the things I have said. I do not think I am wrong but I maybe I am. So, with an abundance of caution, I think somebody has to say, are these facts as presented accurate? If they are accurate are they being accurately interpreted? If so, then yes, there are some concerns and here is the process we are going to use to formulate a plan to help us mitigate the adverse consequences.”
Cortez ended the interview by pointing out that one of the leaders within Futuro McAllen, George Gause, had correctly observed that not all of the things on the Valley’s horizon are bad.
“All things in the future are not going to be bad. As George Gause said, the medical school, the merger of the two UT universities, all of these are good things. But, at the end of the day, I feel this Valley, right now, has to retool itself because if we continue on the path we are going we are going to get poorer.”
Cortez’s speech at the Futuro McAllen event is open to the public. For more information about the event call Futuro McAllen leaders Nedra Kinerk at 956-330-2071 or Davis Rankin at 956-605-9825.