|HARLINGEN, April 14 - With a Bass Pro Shops already in place and a Sam’s Club and Burlington Coat Factory on the way, Harlingen residents could be forgiven for thinking retail development is Mayor Chris Boswell’s top priority.
Not so, Boswell says, pointing also to the areas of medical and higher education, job growth in the manufacturing and service sectors, public safety, and improving the beauty of the city in order to get more people to move there.
Boswell is running for a third term as mayor and his campaign slogan in Momentum, Momentum, Momentum.
“We think we have a lot of momentum going in a number of areas and we need to keep that going,” Boswell told the Guardian. “We want keep our City on a roll.”
Boswell’s opponent in the May 11 election is businessman and former Donna Mayor Rick Morales. One of the complaints Morales has made is that Boswell and the Harlingen City Commission have focused too much on retail development and not enough on manufacturing.
Asked to respond to the charge, Boswell said: “My response to that is we can walk and chew gum at the same time. We do not have to say we are only going to one or the other. We are doing both.”
Boswell gave a list of some of the manufacturing firms that have been expanding in Harlingen.
“United Launch Alliance has been here for 25 years and they have added another 75 people. There has been expansion at ITD Precision, which also makes auto manufacturing parts. They have almost doubled the size of their footprint in the last 18 months in Harlingen,” Boswell said.
“We’ve had Tyco Valves, which was thinking of consolidating into either Ohio or Harlingen. They chose Harlingen and did a $5 million expansion, adding 69 jobs. Penn Aluminum has reopened. And, Cardone, which remanufactures auto parts and is the supply center for the largest maquila in Matamoros, has 250 employees down here. We are doing a good job of manufacturing. I think we have an opportunity to do a lot more as well.”
Boswell is also proud of the success of Tire Recycling and Processing, which opened in August, 2012. The company uses cutting edge technology to shred used and abandoned tires and convert them into liquid and pellet bio fuel. Boswell said the company’s products are in demand in the U.S., Mexico and Europe. “Tire Recycling and Processing was one of the things well received by state legislators on their recent tour of Cameron County. They loved it and are looking for ways to see it spread throughout the state,” said Boswell.
Boswell also pointed to the announcement of a Coronado Ventures and Bechtel power plant in Harlingen. “This is a one-half billion dollar capital investment which will take up to two years to complete and employ up to 700 people in the construction phase. This is huge,” he said.
With regard to retail shopping, Boswell said he is proud to have been involved in the development of three important centers in the last five years. Harlingen Corners is anchored by Kohl’s and is getting Burlington Coat Factory. Cameron Crossing is anchored by Bass Pro Shops and also has a LongHorn Stakehouse and an AT&T store. And, Harlingen Heights is to be anchored by Sam’s Club.
“We are going to have a tremendous amount of synergy in our retail development, which will bring more retail shopping opportunities to our community,” Boswell said.
“I predict you will see an explosion in this entire shopping district. Sam’s Club is great but when you put it all together you see a tremendous development of retail in our community that we have not seen in a long, long time.”
One aspect of the retail shopping boom in Harlingen has been the visit of Mexican nationals. Bass Pro Shops does license plate counts in its parking lot and, on average, over 40 percent of the vehicles are from Mexico.
“Harlingen has never really had a lot of Mexican shoppers, very few. Most of them stay in the Brownsville and McAllen areas. Now we have something that is unique and we have more opportunities,” Boswell said.
He said Forever 21 is a very popular clothes store for Mexican visitors. Boswell is proud to point out that the only one in the Rio Grande Valley is located in Valle Vista Mall in Harlingen.
“Forever 21 is a privately held company and it has a similar business model to Southwest Airlines. It goes into one market and attracts from an entire region. We are seeing more Mexican nationals shopping in our community and it is great. We love to have them here,” Boswell said.
With regard to landing Bass Pro Shops, Boswell said the giant sporting goods store was largely responsible for an almost nine percent increase in sales tax revenue. He said this is the largest sales tax revenue increase of any city in the Rio Grande Valley. A lot of that sales tax revenue comes from Mexican shoppers because 40 percent of the customers at Bass Pro Shops are from Mexico.
“We’ve had 14 straight months of positive retail sales tax growth and we’ve generated more than $20 million in sales tax last fiscal year. That’s the first time in Harlingen’s history we had taxable retail sales of over $1 billion,” said Boswell, proudly.
Boswell said under his stewardship, Harlingen has been growing in a number of sectors. “We are not just looking at one thing,” Boswell told the Guardian. “We have various pillars to keep our community strong. We are focusing on public safety, on retail development, on job growth in manufacturing and the service sectors, and keeping our community cleaned up and making it more beautiful place to live in and visit and invest in, to keep our families here. And, Harlingen has been a full partner in the planned new UT University and medical school, getting the RAHC into the medical school.”
With regard to his record on public safety, Boswell said there has been a five-year downward trend in the crime rate since he became mayor, including a 20 percent drop in 2012. “Public safety has been a number one issue for me and I know how important that is to our community. I’ve also made it a priority to target run-down buildings and structures which have been havens for gang activity, drugs and graffiti. We’ve torn down nearly 250 structures since I’ve been mayor,” Boswell said.
Boswell has been one of the Valley’s loudest cheerleaders for a four-year regional medical school. He pointed out that during his term as mayor the city commission acquired an additional 35 acres for a medical school campus. He said the fast-growing medical complex that has developed in Harlingen now includes Valley Baptist Medical Center, Su Clinica Familiar, the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) and the VA’s new Surgical Center.
During the last decade, Harlingen has slipped from being the third largest city in the Valley to sixth because it did not grow as fast as some of its neighboring communities. The five Valley cities now above Harlingen in population terms are Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission and Pharr. However, Boswell is confident Harlingen will grow as a regional destination for retail shopping and higher education and increase in its appeal when quality of life factors are measured. “We’ve really reached a point where we’re going to continue see positive growth, new retail and more commercial expansion,” he said.
Asked to list his priorities for a third term as mayor, Boswell said: “Making sure the RAHC campus is a key component of the new University envisioned by UT system, public safety, increased manufacturing jobs, more retail and continued attention to Downtown and beautification of the City are all the ingredients to continued momentum for growth and prosperity. I love my City and I love serving the citizens of Harlingen. I’m asking for their vote so we can continue the growth.”
Boswell provided the Guardian with his biography. It reads: “Chris Boswell is a 30 year resident of Harlingen and was born and raised in the Valley. After graduating from San Benito High School, he obtained his Finance degree from the University of Texas at Austin and his law degree from Southern Methodist University. He is partner in Curtis and Boswell, L.L.P., in Harlingen and is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.
“He is a past President of the Cameron County Bar Association, Past President of the Rio Grande Council Boy Scouts of America, Past President of the Lower Rio Grande Development Council and past Chairman of the Harlingen Industrial Foundation. Boswell has served on numerous Boards and committees and served three terms on the Harlingen City Commission before becoming Mayor in 2007. He is married to Anita Boswell and they have three children Megan, Thomas and Carrie.”