MCALLEN, RGV – A new State Department travel warning that ranks the state of Tamaulipas at Level 4, the same as countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, is causing havoc for economic development leaders.

A Level 4 classification includes the warning: Do Not Travel. Five Mexican states – Colima, Guerrero, Michoacán, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas – are listed as Level 4. The warning says none of them should be visited “due to crime.”

At a board meeting on Thursday, Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, said he has relayed his concerns to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and the assistant consul for the United States in Matamoros.

Eduardo Lopez

“The State Department issued a new travel advisory on January 10. It has created quite a few problems for us,” Patridge told his board of directors. “The warnings have not changed, just the classification. The problem is they went to four classifications and Level 4 is considered the worst. It just so happens, the state of Tamaulipas was ranked as a No. 4, which puts us at the same category as Afghanistan and Syria.”

Immediately, Patridge started getting calls from companies that have operations in Reynosa. McAllen EDC helps manufacturing companies develop plants in the city. McAllen EDC’s vice president for Mexico operations, Ralph Garcia, also started getting phone calls, Patridge said.

“They (the manufacturing companies in Tamaulipas) are now considered to be in a war-torn area. It is creating a lot of problems for the companies,” Patridge said.

“We were fortunate. Senator Cornyn was in town last week. I did have an opportunity to talk, just he and I, about, not getting the State Department to change their warning, because he cannot do that. But, we elaborated to him what this was doing and what impact this was having on the U.S. side of the border. He commented that he was going to talk to the State Department and express to them the unintended consequences that are taking place to see what could be done.”

Patridge said he and Garcia also talked to the deputy consul in Matamoros.

“He happened to be in Mexico City at the Embassy and so, he was able to pass along to them what is happening. He was aware. He said he has been getting lots of calls from lots of cities, and the Governor and everyone else in the State of Tamaulipas, and that he did pass that along to the ambassador’s staff. So, we will see what happens. But, it has created a big problem for us.”

The countries given a Level 4 ranking include Afghanistan, Central Africa Republic, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Mali, North Korea, Yemen, Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia. Mexico is given a Level 2 classification. The state of Nuevo Leon, which includes Monterrey, is classified at Level 3.

For the state of Tamaulipas, the State Department says:

Tamaulipas state – Level 4: Do Not Travel

Do not travel due to crime. Violent crime, such as murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, extortion, and sexual assault, is common. Gang activity, including gun battles, is widespread. Armed criminal groups target public and private passenger buses traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers hostage and demanding ransom payments. Local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state.

U.S. government employees are subject to movement restrictions and a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from patronizing adult clubs and gambling establishments in Tamaulipas.

For the state of Nuevo Leon, the State Department says:

Nuevo Leon – Level 3: Reconsider Travel

Reconsider travel due to crime. Violent crime and gang activity are common in parts of Nuevo Leon state.

U.S. government employees may travel outside Monterrey only during daylight on toll roads, with the exception of travel to the Monterrey airport, which is permitted at any time.

U.S. government employees must remain within San Pedro Garza Garcia or Santa Catarina (south of the Santa Catarina river) municipalities between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from patronizing adult clubs and gambling establishments in Nuevo Leon.

For Mexico, the State Department says:

Mexico – Level 2: Exercise increased caution

Exercise increased caution in Mexico due to crime. Some areas have increased risk. Read the entire Travel Advisory.

Violent crime, such as homicide, kidnapping, carjacking, and robbery, is widespread.

The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in many areas of Mexico as U.S. government employees are prohibited from travel to these areas.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from intercity travel after dark in many areas of Mexico. U.S. government employees are also not permitted to drive from the U.S.-Mexico border to or from the interior parts of Mexico with the exception of daytime travel on Highway 15 between Nogales and Hermosillo.

McAllen hotel manager Eduardo Lopez thanked Patridge for voicing his complaints about the Level 4 travel warning for Tamaulipas.

“I want to thank Keith for following up on the State travel warning. For local hotels, 35 to 40 percent of our business depends on maquiladoras. I got a call from my owner who saw the Level 4 ranking for Tamaulipas in the LA Times. He asked, are you going to be okay? Not much can be done but I appreciate the involvement, this is very, very important to all of us,” Lopez said.

“I like to say this, once in a while, 35 to 40 percent of our hotel business is the maquiladoras. When you add another 20 to 25 percent of Mexico customers, you are looking at 55 – 60 percent directly impacted by Mexico. This is part of the reason a lot of hotels are struggling for survival.”

Lopez is a board member for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. He said the Chamber and the City of McAllen has hired an ad agency to help promote the city in other parts of Texas, so that is less reliant on tourists and business visitors from Mexico.

“We have retained Pollux Castor Advertising & Marketing to create a program, to help tourism, retail, business development, marketing. The company’s first order of business is gathering research,” Lopez said.

A particular area McAllen hopes to attract tourists from is the South Texas triangle, from Laredo across to Corpus Christi south. “I hate this word, diversify. We are a border town, we are always going to be a border town. But, anything else helps in these hard times,” Lopez said.

Garcia, McAllen EDC’s vice president for Mexico operations, said despite all the security concerns, those manufacturing companies that have invested in Reynosa are doing well.

“Other parts of Mexico, other parts of the border are feeling the same personnel problems and the same security concerns,” Garcia said. “I attended a developer’s meeting in Reynosa past week. There are three expansion projects underway, and one spec building that will start construction this month. Those are positive indicators. It shows they have access to capital. Even with all the negative stories we hear on the day to day, the companies that are investing there continue to grow, they see the value.”

Darrel Renfrow, a board member of INDEX Reynosa, said employment at Reynosa maquila plants is on the rise. For October 2017, maquila plants in Reynosa hired 120,000 workers, which was 1,500 over September 2017, and 10,000 over the peak in 2016. Matamoros had a slight drop over the same period and Nuevo Laredo was about the same. “So, the growth appears to be in Reynosa. Our company hired 900 workers last year just to retain 150. It is a difficult situation, there is no doubt Reynosa needs more direct labor. It is just not out there.”