|EDINBURG, July 25 - EDC Executive Director Gus Garcia gave an absorbing overview of all the growth happening in his city and concluded that Edinburg is going to be at the epicenter of economic development in the Rio Grande Valley.
Garcia listed the big projects that are currently underway in Edinburg. It was a long list. “We are looking at $1.5 billion in capital investment in the city of Edinburg,” Garcia said. “Typically, we do $100 million a year.”
Garcia then ran through the new projects. A customs center at Edinburg airport, new facilities at the city’s five industrial parks, expansion of UT-Rio Grande Valley, including a four-year medical school, a residential apartment complex on West University Drive, a hotel on U.S. 281, a retail resaca project, the new Hidalgo County Courthouse, the $54 million Vipers Arena and hotels being built next to it, a new HEB, a Walmart supercenter, a 600,000 square feet expansion at The Shoppes, a $330 million development at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, investment in the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, and a 100,000 square feet expansion at the Lone Star Plaza.
“Ladies and gentlemen, that is a lot of business going on in the city of Edinburg. We are leading the way in medicine, education and government and we believe we are going to be the epicenter of economic development in the Rio Grande Valley,” Garcia said.
Garcia made his remarks at a luncheon hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Towards the end of his power point presentation, Garcia provided a scoop, announcing a 500,000 square feet master planned retail project called Resaca Market at La Sienna. The development, at the intersection of Monte Cristo and Expressway 281, will include shops, restaurants, entertainment, a hotel and, running through the middle of the development, a lake, Garcia revealed. The project is being developed by the Burns family of Edinburg. “Resaca Market at La Sienna brings home the authenticity of this region. What a wonderful opportunity for shopping,” Garcia said.
Garcia kicked off the luncheon in a novel way. He read excerpts of a history book that detailed how Edinburg became the county seat for Hidalgo County. He said a 100-plus years ago no one wanted to donate land for a county courthouse, except for a landowner in a community in the north of the county that was due to be called Chapin. He noted how different things are today, with lots of cities happy to offer land to bring home the county seat. Chapin became Edinburg and the rest is history.
In fact, Edinburg is growing so fast, Garcia said, that if the current patterns hold the city would not be far behind McAllen in population. Edinburg’s population grew 97 percent between 2000 and 2012, Garcia said. If that continues, by 2024, the 50,000 gap in population between McAllen and Edinburg will have been whittled down to 7,000, Garcia said. He noted that Mission is growing fast also but pointed out that unlike Edinburg, Mission cannot grow in a northerly direction because of Palmhurst. “We do not have that problem,” Garcia said.
Garcia acknowledged he is passionate about Edinburg and passionate about helping it grow. He said he does not normally get nervous when giving a speech but was so this time because he wanted to “knock it out of the park.”
On the issue of transportation infrastructure, Garcia pointed to the widening of 10th Street north to Monte Cristo and the Highway 1925 project that will run from Monte Cristo to South Padre Island via a new second causeway. Garcia said Edinburg boasts the largest amount of interstate frontage in the Valley. While many cities have two or three miles of frontage road next to an expressway, Edinburg has 18 miles. This, Garcia said, means Edinburg has great opportunities for economic development.
Garcia emphasized how important healthcare and medicine is to Edinburg. He said one in four jobs in his city are in the medical field and many of those jobs pay good salaries. He said Edinburg is home to a “burgeoning hospital district” with nine different institutions, when one includes the planned UTRGV Medical School. Garcia also pointed out that hospitals represent 50 percent of 12 largest employers in Hidalgo County, and one third of the ten largest employers in Cameron County. In Hidalgo County, he said, hospitals provide $13 million in property taxes.
Garcia noted that Edinburg Regional Hospital has just opened a new women's birthing center. He also discussed the major impact Doctors Hospital Renaissance has had on the community. “I cannot say enough about Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. DHR is an incredible, wonderful organization. They have got it. Not taking anything away from South Texas Health System. It is a gigantic organization as well. This one is home grown so I think it is part of the lure of DHR,” Garcia said. He noted that DHR started with a single investment by the City of Edinburg and its EDC of just $500,000. “A huge, huge investment that is paying off - paying huge, huge, dividends,” Garcia said. “They (DHR) make our community better. Their partnership is big for us. I feel the same way about STHS.”
Garcia also praised the work of Edinburg CISD, which, with 34,000 students, is the biggest school district in Hidalgo County. “Edinburg CISD is phenomenal,” Garcia said. “The superintendent was telling me the other day that there are 22 merit students in one high school alone.” Garcia said when potential investors call his office they always ask about the tax rate, how educated the workforce is and what the local schools are like. “I can't tell you how much it helps me from an economic development standpoint to be able to tell industry we have great schools,” Garcia said, pointing out that Edinburg boasts 11 “distinguished” schools, far more than any other district in the Valley.
In his speech, Garcia focused on a meeting he had recently with Ann Stevens, president of Bio Med SA. The group was created nine years ago to bring bio medicine to San Antonio.
“She explained to me in step by step detail what it was going to take to foster innovation and create clusters of technology and create those high-paying jobs we are seeking. The first thing she told me was, ‘don't go create a research park.’ That is everyone's first inclination, to go buy 200 acres, 500 acres or 1,500 acres and say I am going to create a research park. It is not about that,” Garcia said.
“It is about having the university, making a commitment to those innovators, hiring those professors that bring that talent and the EDC partnering with that. Once they have that talent they create those students that innovate and create new products. And then we transfer that technology through the research center. Then we create a business. There are so many things. Once you have that business, that business stays or is picked up by a larger business and leaves. But it leaves behind a trail of entrepreneurs.”
The job of the EDC, Garcia said, is to foster that growth and innovation through incubators or private investors and link the entities together so clusters are formed. “It is like a seed from which you grow a research park. You don't go buy a research park and investment millions and millions of dollars and say, they will come because they won't.”
Garcia said the bio medicine industry began in San Antonio, 50 years ago. By 2009 it was worth $18.9 billion. Today it is worth $24.5 billion. It pays $6.5 million in wages and creates 141,000 jobs. Indeed, bio medicine and healthcare in general creates one out of every six workers in San Antonio, Garcia said. “If you build it they will come - that is not the philosophy the EDC subscribes to. It is about building it from the ground up, not the top down,” Garcia added.
Discussing Edinburg’s five industrial parks, situated on the U.S. 281/I-69 Central corridor, Garcia focused on the 250,000 square feet cold storage facility run by Don Hugo Produce. He said this facility will be growing to one million square feet as it prepares for fresh produce coming in on trucks from the new Mazatlán to Matamoros superhighway in Mexico. The superhighway is slated to have a $16 billion impact, Garcia said.
On the issue of retail sales, Garcia said Edinburg currently “loses” about half a billion dollars a year to McAllen. He said this happens because many Edinburg residents shop in McAllen. The plan is to capture that business and bring it back home, Garcia said.
Garcia noted that First Hartford is building a restaurant plaza inside The Shoppes and that the Trenton Park Plaza is being expanded. He also referenced the coming of a 100 acre commercial development on Highway 107, a Holiday Inn Express, and the 288-unit La Sienna apartment project on Expressway 281 and Monte Cristo.
Garcia said the new Vipers Arena will help make Edinburg the entertainment capital of the Valley. “The Viper Arena will be absolutely phenomenal,” he said, pointing out it will include an 8,500 seat stadium with comfortable seating and a full-service restaurant. He said Edinburg has teamed up with Live Nation, one of the top bookers of entertainment in the nation.
Garcia also noted that UTPA is building a $42 million performing arts center by UTPA. He said this, along with a new student housing facility, will help create a vibrant downtown. “We will be a real college town,” Garcia said.
Garcia acknowledged that East University Drive is blighted and run down. He said the plan is to create a first class pedestrian access walkway.
Garcia said Edinburg hopes to lure more Mexican shoppers, noting that there are five times more people living just to the south of the Valley than just north of the Valley. He also said that the opening of the energy market in Mexico will have a big impact on the Valley. He cited a report from Compass Bank which predicts that oil and gas production in northern Mexico will create 2.5 million jobs over ten years, and have a $30 billion impact on the Valley. “It is crucial we take advantage of that. Edinburg is positioned perfectly along 281 for this type of growth,” Garcia said.