|EDINBURG, January 2 - Edinburg EDC has been receiving a lot more calls from site selectors wishing to develop and companies wishing to relocate since details were announced about a new university and medical school coming to the Rio Grande Valley.
So says Gus Garcia, executive director of Edinburg EDC, in an exclusive interview with the Guardian on the state of economic development in the Rio Grande Valley.
“The decision by UT to create a new university and medical school has really put the Rio Grande Valley in the spotlight. We have been receiving calls on a daily basis,” Garcia said.
“I have only been here six months but my staff says it has never been like this. Some staff members have been here 12 years. They have never seen so much activity, not just from the local developers we have but from manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, large employers. They are looking not just at Edinburg but the entire Valley.”
Earlier this month, the UT System chose the name UT-Rio Grande Valley for the new university it is creating. UT-Pan American in Edinburg and UT-Brownsville are being collapsed to create the new university. There will also be a four-year medical school.
“There is something about a medical school that piques an interest,” Garcia said. “The Valley is quickly becoming relevant. Before, nobody had heard of the Rio Grande Valley. Now, we are getting coverage in Forbes magazine, Fortune magazine, the Wall Street Journal. We are making national news. We are a boom town. And, we have so much going for us. Manufacturers like the year-round weather. The executives and site selectors that come down here are surprised at what the RGV is like and what we have to offer.”
All of this positive national attention is good for the Valley, Garcia said, because site selectors are always looking at where they need to be next. “The transformational change, we are seeing it here. Here at the EDC, we are really at ground zero,” Garcia said.
Garcia ran through some of the factors that make the Valley an exciting place to invest. “We have a young and growing population. Our average age is only 27. We have one hospital in Edinburg that is birthing enough babies to fill an elementary school a month.”
Over the past ten years Edinburg has grown 59 percent. Garcia believes a similar growth rate will occur over the current decade. He points out that the UT System alone is slated to invest $700 million across the Valley over the next ten years. “Presuming that happens, a lot of it will be here in Edinburg because this is where the main campus for the new university will be. When you couple this with what Doctors Hospital at Renaissance is doing, with the new RGV Vipers arena, with our projected plans, we are talking about $2 billion investment over the next ten years. We are currently at $80 million a month on average. Tell me what other city in our category gets $2 billion in investment over ten years? You will be hard pressed to find one,” Garcia said.
With all of this growth comes a need to plan wisely. Garcia believes EDC executives from across the Valley need to get together and look at the core competencies different parts of the Valley possess. He said different cities have different strengths. He said Valley cities should play to those strengths, allowing different parts of the region to specialize in areas such as manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, medical, education, etc.
One of Edinburg’s core competencies, Garcia said, is education. “I know I am biased but I believe we have the best school district in the Valley. According to the Texas Education Agency ranking, we have more distinguished schools. It is astonishing we have almost double the number of distinguished schools than other cities and school districts. That tells us a lot about Edinburg, about the commitment of our parents, our teachers. The parents are very engaged. We received recognition for having the school board of the year. The city leadership has to ask, how do we become that preferred residential community, the place people want to live? Good schools help.”
Garcia said that with all the growth that is happening, now is a good time to look at the Valley’s core competencies.
“Let us focus on these. Who is going to handle education, for example? Who is going to handle manufacturing? Who is going to handle warehousing and distribution? Who is going to handle medical? You cannot be a master of all. I would love to be the answer to everybody’s wishes but if you want to be strong as a region, you have to have specialized districts. We have to ask, what are we good at?”
Garcia said he is pleased there is general agreement among EDC executives across the Valley that regional cooperation is the way to go. He said the UT System has set the right example by naming the new university UT-RGV. “Cities such as Pharr, McAllen, Edinburg, working together made the new university happen. They reached agreement on helping to fund the project. Now, we need to sit down and say, look, we are going to have a $500 million investment. If we want to attract a car manufacturer that employs 16,000 workers, we need to say, we want it here in the Valley, let us sit down and agree where it should be, where is the land?”
Garcia elaborated on this theme of regional cooperation. “We are all looking at regionalization. You look at the university project. You look at McAllen and Pharr working together and discussing how to make the Donna International Bridge work. We can do more together than we can apart.”
The next big economic development announcement coming out of Edinburg will likely occur later this month. It involves a 90-acre project just off of I-69 Central. When all phases on the entertainment-related project are complete the total investment will be upwards of $100 million. “The new Vipers arena has opened so many doors for us, including this one. It is pretty neat. It will really make Edinburg a destination city,” Garcia predicted.