EDINBURG, September 29 - Having met with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House last week, Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas is convinced one or both of them will visit the South Texas border region soon.
Salinas was in Washington, D.C., to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. He spent a couple of minutes chatting with Obama and 15 minutes with the Biden. He said both appeared to be interested and sincere.
“I had a chance to speak to the President about border trade and invited him to the border and he showed a lot of interest. Then I had about 15 minutes privately with the Vice President. I give him an update on what is going on along the border and what is going on in Laredo,” Salinas told the Guardian.
“Vice President Biden knows about business. He has been in government for over 30 years so he knows how important international trade is. I think he would be especially interested with the impact of trade with Mexico. It is billions and billions of dollars a year.”
Supporters of Obama in South Texas are disappointed the President has not visited the region since he was elected to office in 2008. Some observers believe he has not done so for fear of getting a rough ride from veterans. During the 2008 presidential primary election campaign, Obama promised to build a veteran’s hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. Nothing has happened on that front.
Salinas gave an exclusive interview to the Guardian while attending an event last Thursday at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. He said Obama and/or Biden should visit South Texas in order to get a true picture of what is happening on the border, not what is portrayed in the national media.
“We are talking about $1 billion of trade crossing between the U.S. and Mexico every day. I told him about the militia groups that wanted to come to the border and how they were disappointed because no one would support them. I told him of the importance of us getting the resources to make sure we have commerce flowing safely and securely,” Salinas said, referring to his meeting with Biden.
Salinas said any tour of the South Texas border region has to include a visit to Laredo.
“We are the No. 3 trade district in the nation, behind New York and LA. We have surpassed Houston, New Orleans and Detroit and they are all water districts. The Vice President was stunned to learn this. He indicated an interest in coming. He did not realize we have 10,000 to 12,000 trucks crossing every day. What is going on in Laredo is just fantastic. I think it is just going to continue with the energy reforms in Mexico, with the new Highway 40, Carretera Cuarenta. I think you are going to see one of them (Obama or Biden) come here,” Salinas said.
Asked what impact Eagle Ford Shale is having on Laredo, Salinas said: “Thanks in part to Eagle Ford Shale, we are just bursting at the seams. It is having a tremendous impact. That is why I shared the information I shared. I mean the hotels that are being built in Cotulla, the unemployment rate now being less than six percent. They are selling a lot of cars, one car dealer saw his car sales go up 85 percent because of the trucks you need in the oilfield. Eagle Ford has been a blessing for Laredo. It is going to spark more jobs and growth.”
Another exciting thing happening in Laredo, Salinas said, is construction of a new outlet mall downtown.
“We are hopeful that our outlet mall will be better than the one in San Marcos and that it will keep our visitors from Mexico from going to San Marcos. We think they will stay in Laredo. There will be more than 100 stores and the mall will create 1,200 permanent jobs and over 1,000 part time jobs. There will be over 1,000 construction jobs. The boost it is going to give to the local economy will be tremendous. It is all going to happen in the next couple of years,” Salinas said.
Salinas said the Horizon Properties Group will develop the outlet mall in Laredo. “They have malls in El Paso. They know what to do. It will be a shot in the arm for Laredo. It will short cut people from going all the way to San Marcos, especially those from the interior of Mexico. We are going to do a good job marketing it and publicizing it,” Salinas said.
Asked about the potential impact of Mexico’s deregulation of the energy sector, Salinas said: “It is another boost. There are a lot of good things happening in Mexico to boost economic trade. The EB-5 program is going to help. A lot of companies want to relocate to the border.”
Salinas acknowledged that “one of the things” that has hurt Laredo and the border region is a “misconception that our communities are not safe.” He said city leaders are working hard to dismiss the notion that Laredo is not a safe place to live. “That has hurt us when it comes to recruiting doctors, nurses, educators. We are getting away from that but the Right Wing media has really hurt us. If it were true that our cities were not safe that would be okay but when they are producing falsehoods and falsely depicting things, it is devastating. It has been devastating but we are recovering and we are bursting at the seams. And the best is yet to come.”