McALLEN, RGV – In what could be a first for the border region, two institutions of higher education are combining to stage a bi-national innovation conference.

On Thursday, Sept. 26, “Inno’ 2013 – Innovation and Technology for Cross-Border Economic Development” kicks off at the Instituto Internacional de Estudios Superiores in Reynosa. The next day, the conference moves to South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen. There, the focus will be on Eagle Ford Shale and Corredor Económico del Norte, the new superhighway being built from Mazatlan to Matamoros.

“This bi-national forum is a first. We are opening the door on cross border cooperation and education. We are excited. We are ready. We expect 500 people to attend in Reynosa,” said Juan Rosendo Martinez Gomez, president of IIES.

Martinez said the Reynosa conference will focus on innovation and the competitive advantage it can bring to a community. “We have organized this international forum to promote innovation in Tamaulipas. We are expecting scientists, professors, students, business leaders and government officials to attend,” he said.

IIES has been going for 20 years as a private university in Reynosa. It has a high school component that has been going for 32 years. About 300 students attend the high school and 400 the university. There are 60-plus students taking the university’s Master’s program. The university is situated in the heart of Reynosa’s maquila industry and places an emphasis on business, engineering and technology training. “We have a number of classes in English because today’s students need to speak English well. In the maquila industry, you need to be bilingual,” Martinez said.

Martinez’s father, Rosendo Martinez, is from Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Educating students is clearly a family trait because Rosendo Martinez started Nuevo Laredo City College. “We live to teach. I have given my heart to this university just like my father did to his,” Martinez said.

As well as organizing the innovation forum in Reynosa, Martinez is slated to give the opening remarks at the McAllen event on Sept. 27, alongside South Texas College President Shirley Reed. Martinez is a good friend of Mario Reyna, dean of business and technology at STC. Reyna has taught leadership classes at IIES a few years back.

“Rosendo and I believe in the same things,” Reyna said. “We believe in economic development, we believe in education, we believe in having commerce grow in our area. The only way for us to prosper as a region is to have a well-educated workforce. NAFTA is not going to go away. There will be more integration of our economies.”

The keynote speaker at the McAllen event will be Bret Erickson, president and CEO of the Texas International Produce Association. The title of the keynote address is “El Puente Baluarte – The Next Economic Tsunami for the Region,” a reference to the new superhighway being built from Mazatlan to Matamoros.

“We want to focus at this conference on the new superhighway that is coming from Mazatlan all the way to the Valley and how that is going to change our business environment,” Reyna said. “There is going to be so much truck traffic, all the produce, all the fruits coming from Sinaloa, all the containers from Asia, and we have to prepare, we have to ensure that we have the right infrastructure. People are buying land to build warehouses in the Valley in anticipation, so this is going to create a lot of employment.”

Another key subject being covered at the McAllen conference is Eagle Ford Shale, the giant oil and gas play that covers 22 counties in South and Central Texas. Dr. Thomas Tunstall, director of the Center for Community and Business Research at UT-San Antonio, and Leodoro Martinez, Jr., chairman of the Eagle Ford Shale Consortium, will speak about the economic impact of Eagle Ford Shale.

“We want the public to understand there is a huge investment taking place with Eagle Ford Shale. They are talking about a $166 billion investment. It is huge. It is going to have a big impact on us. We are going to have to provide services here in the Valley for Eagle Ford Shale and it is also going to have an impact on recruitment. A lot of the businesses here may lose staff to Eagle Ford Shale because of the wages being offered,” Reyna said.

Students at STC are fully aware of Eagle Ford Shale, Reyna told the Guardian. He said he has 80 new students in the diesel program and the automotive program has had a 30 percent increase this semester. He said the welding program is also proving popular. “People know what is going on. They need water for all the fracking so they need a lot of welders to lay the pipelines.” Reyna said that with improvements in the technology to extract oil and gas shale, the Eagle Ford operation could go on for another 20 years or more.

Another topic set to be discussed at the McAllen conference is cross border training. The speaker for this topic is Joseph Olmeda, president of INDEX Reynosa, the trade association for the maquila industry.

Jesus Cañas, business economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, will speak about the economic outlook for the region at the McAllen conference.

There will also be a panel discussion on economic development innovations. Speakers for this panel include Keith Patridge, president & CEO of McAllen EDC, Alex Meade, CEO of Mission EDC, Agustin “Gus” Garcia, executive director of Edinburg EDC, Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval, and Rose Benavidez, president and CEO of Starr County Industrial Foundation.

The final panel discussion at the McAllen event will be on public safety in the region. The speakers will be Hidalgo County District Attorney Rene Guerra and Tamaulipas Attorney General Ismael Quintanilla Acosta.

“We want to disseminate information to our public to make them aware of all the economic opportunities that exist now and in the future. The only way you can participate in economic opportunities is if you know about it. The information is there but sometimes people are not aware,” Reyna said.

“So, we invite the public, the young entrepreneurs; the small business owners to attend this conference. I think it might lead them toward redefining their business plans so they can continue to be successful here in the Valley. There is a huge potential with Eagle Ford Shale and there is a huge potential with the new Mazatlan-Durango superhighway. We need to make the information available to the young entrepreneurs, the small enterprises so they can realize the potential. That is the purpose of this conference.”