We had over 800,000 trucks, 11.5 million cars and 5.8 million pedestrians cross our ports of entry in the Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

Our region had $14.6 trillion in retail sales and $280 million in hotel receipts. Our region is an economic powerhouse for the state of Texas.

Safety is important to the State of Texas, as well as the RGV. The state’s efforts to secure the border are well-intentioned, but have produced several unintended consequences for our local economy. Other parts of the state have a perception that we have an elevated crime and insecurity problem. Those negative perceptions are discouraging visitors, investments, business relocations and business expansions.

Mexico’s dilemma in regards to the peso trading against the dollar, a 20 percent increase in gasoline prices, unknown elements as far as what President Trump will do with NAFTA, and low oil prices have caused many Mexican Nationals to “hunker down” and to spending and traveling. Our region is caught in the middle of several forces that are way beyond our control.

Our region is going to be in a great position in the long-term with population growth, job creation, education attainment, and a young population (the median age is currently 27 years of age). This young population in the RGV means there will be lots of stuff that people are going to be buying, such as their first homes, cars and stuff for their kids, and “perks” for moving up the ladder in their careers. Our pressing need is to get through this short-term challenge.

What we need the state to do this legislative session is not only to invest in security along the border, but also to invest in our region by developing a $15 million matching fund program that provides local economic development entities, convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce and other economic development entities a one-to-one match with state money to market and promote the area. The McAllen Chamber of Commerce is working with area regional partners to present this investment opportunity to our state officials this spring.

The State of Texas is already spending $800 million to “secure the border.” Why not invest some of that money in growing the border? Economic growth and economic prosperity create lots of opportunity for a region. This proposal would call for communities to have “skin” in the game and the proposal is not a hand-out, but a very dynamic marketing and promotional co-op with the state.

Rio Grande Valley Day is Tuesday, February 7 in Austin. We have over 35 entities, cities and chambers promoting issues that are important to our region.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column first appeared in the January, 2017, issue of McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s monthly magazine, McAllen Chamber.