WESLACO, RGV – The president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce says the Rio Grande Valley should be able to tap into more state tourism dollars to offset “unintended consequences” arising from increased border security measures.
Ahlenius says $25 million should be siphoned off the 800 million-plus dollars that the state spends on border security. He said this $25 million should go towards promoting the Valley as a tourist destination.
Much of the $800 million the state allocates for border security is spent in the Valley. A lot of it is used to boost the presence of state troopers.
“We are basically saying great, if you are going to be protecting the border, help us also promote the border. There are some unintended consequences in terms of the actions you have taken,” Ahlenius said, referring to the state’s border security plan.
“What we are basically proposing is that they (the Legislature) set aside, out of that $800 million, $25 million that could be used as a matching grant for individual cities or entities such as the Convention and Visitors Bureaus, if they are buying advertising outside Texas to promote the region. This could tell a better story about our region.”
Ahlenius made his comments in a presentation to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. Ahlenius is spearheading next year’s RGV Day at the State Capitol. He spoke about the event and a Valley legislative agenda that is being developed for RGV Day. The tourism promotion proposal is in the legislative agenda.
Ahlenius said RGV Day at the State Capitol will be Feb. 7, 2017. By then the 85th Legislative Session will be a month old and Texas House and Senate members will likely have been given their committee assignments.
Ahlenius said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling came up with the idea of having an RGV Day at the state Capitol. He said the idea was hatched just prior to the last legislative session in 2015, at an event that featured the cities of McAllen and Edinburg.
“Instead of going up individually, why can’t we go up as a region? We have seen the unifying effect the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has had. We had a really good response as far as cities participating (in 2015),” Ahlenius said. “We continue to try to grow that list.”
Ahlenius provided a list to LRGVDC members of the cities and organizations participating in next year’s RGV Day. He said he was busy recruiting more cities and entities.
Ahlenius said a bus would depart the McAllen Chamber at 4:45 a.m. on the morning of Feb. 7. It would arrive at the State Capitol in time for four events. Mid-morning, Valley leaders will be recognized on the House and Senate floors with resolutions. There will then be a luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel where Valley legislators will give remarks. Then those on the trip will be split into small groups and they will tour the different legislative offices at the Capitol, handing out the Valley’s legislative agenda.
“We have tried to give as much flexibility for groups and individuals to do different things. So, we start with the House and Senate resolutions honoring the region. We have a lunch with our area legislators and their staff. Last time we had over 250 people at the lunch,” Ahlenius said.
“For folks that do not have specific appointments, we have divided people into different legislative teams to go and visit, not only our legislators but every elected official at the Capitol, with our legislative agenda, talking about regional issues.”
Those in the small groups will also invite legislators and their staff to a legislative reception to be hosted at the Capitol early in the evening.
“It is a one-day, fully packed, event. There are Resolutions, a Lunch, Meetings and a Reception. What some groups did (in 2015) was have their own appointments. Maybe the City of Harlingen wants to meet with the Lieutenant Governor. They set up their own appointments and have a small meeting with the Lieutenant Governor,” Ahlenius said. “It provides enough flexibility to do things as a group but also for individual cities to peel off and go work on specific projects.”
Unlike in 2015, there will be a legislative agenda for RGV Day. Ahlenius provided each member of the LRGVDC with a copy of the four-page agenda.
“We have been developing this for the last six months. We started meeting last Spring. We have tried to consolidate from a broad list, down to specific areas where we felt like there was enough coalescing around those issues that was not going to cause heartburn for a lot of folks,” Ahlenius said.
The McAllen Chamber chief then listed the five legislative agenda items. No. 5 was the tourism promotion initiative outlined above. Here are the other four:
“That continues to be a challenge for a lot of economic development entities and for cities as there is growth happening in different sectors. So, we have laid down an economic development plan as far as workforce development is concerned that is basically seeking more funds for workforce development, so cities and economic development can go after that funding,” Ahlenius said.
“With the growth that we are all experiencing, transportation is a key element to success for our region. So, we have projects listed,” Ahlenius said.
Healthy South Texas
“This is a Texas A&M initiative,” Ahlenius said.
Funding for Medical School
“This is UTRGV’s agenda item,” Ahlenius said.
Ahlenius says an investment of $2,500 will secure a Valley entity ten tickets to all the events planned for RGV Day. An investment of $1,500 secures five tickets. The price for an individual who wants to attend all the RGV Day events is $100, he explained.
Ahlenius added that a block of rooms has been reserved at Sheraton for those who wish to stay in Austin.
LRGVDC Executive Director Ron Garza said the RGV Small Cities Coalition will be participating in RGV Day at the State Capitol. “The more the merrier,” Ahlenius responded.