HARLINGEN, RGV – The documentation was signed today to expand the Bi-National Economic Development program started in 2014 by the cities of Brownsville, Matamoros and Harlingen.

The three founding entities have been joined by Cameron and Hidalgo counties and the cities of Reynosa, Edinburg and McAllen. A ceremony was held at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen for leaders of the various entities to sign the documents.

The signatures came from Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar, Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, Reynosa Mayor Elias Leal, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez and Hidalgo County Mayor Ramon Garcia. The event kicked off with brief remarks from Dr. Francisco Fernandez, dean of the new UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Congressman Filemon Vela was the keynote speaker at the event.

“I think it is an historic moment in terms of economic development, in terms of regionalism, in terms of working for the betterment of the community, and that is community on both sides of the river,” Raudel Garza, CEO of Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, told the Rio Grande Guardian. “This sets the groundwork for future cooperation on both sides of the river. We have all talked about it. We have tried to implement things in the past but you can sense now things are changing now to where we are actually doing things together.”

Editor’s Note: The Rio Grande Guardian will have a full story on the BiNED ceremony in tomorrow’s edition.

Here is this morning’s original preview story:

BiNED to be expanded at ceremony in Harlingen today

HARLINGEN, RGV – In a historic show of unity, the cities of Brownsville, Matamoros, Harlingen, McAllen, Edinburg and Reynosa and the counties of Cameron and Hidalgo will today sign an agreement to maximize economic development opportunities.

The vehicle for this cooperation is the Bi-National Economic Development grouping. BiNED was formed in March 2014 by the mayors of Brownsville, Harlingen and Matamoros, in conjunction with Congressman Filemon Vela.

An agreement signed at the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen today will see the group expanded through the inclusion of Cameron and Hidalgo counties and the cities of Reynosa, Edinburg and McAllen. Congressman Vela will give the keynote speech. The event starts at 10 a.m.

To set the scene for the agreement, the Rio Grande Guardian interviewed one of the visionaries behind BiNED – Mike Gonzalez, executive director of United Brownsville.

“I think this deserves to be called an historic event for our region because for the first time ever we are going to be working together on an advanced manufacturing strategy,” Gonzalez said. Asked why BiNED was started, Gonzalez said:

“When we started BiNED we had a very simple premise, we need to capture more of the opportunities coming through here. In Brownsville, we looked at ways to capture more of the manufacturing clusters. This called for the development of an advanced manufacturing strategy. Well, when you look at it you see that all the supply lines run outside of the city’s boundary. We decided we definitely needed Matamoros and we kind of needed Cameron County. That is where the original partnership was at.”

Soon after launching BiNED its leaders in the lower Valley realized that expansion made sense. They were also being asked by officials in the upper Valley if they could participate.

“We got started and then we realized we exist as a region, as one economic eco-system. And we received real strong interest in our initiative from the northern part of the Valley. So, we have been visiting with Reynosa, McAllen, Edinburg, and Hidalgo County about how we create one coordinating board that can look at creating this advanced manufacturing strategy,” Gonzalez said.

“It is funny because everybody talks about the boundaries between communities and how little communication sometimes exists, especially when it comes to economic development. So, the months leading up to this has been about building that trust and building that one vision. So, people would say, ‘So what are we going to get together for and why?’ A regional advanced manufacturing strategy is something that is big enough that everyone can say, ‘Hey, I have a stake in that’.”

Asked if the various entities that will make up an expanded BiNED can get along, given that, historically, some have been competitors with things like airports and international bridges, Gonzalez said: “It is very easy for someone to say, it is my airport, not your airport; we can’t both win. But with this, yes, you can both win because there is a part for everybody. So, we have framed everything. Congressman Vela has been a tremendous resource in kind of framing this, especially at the national level. He will be at our event, as will eight representatives from all the communities participating. I think it is one of the few times we have had all these folks together, where they sign a resolution creating an expanded BiNED. All of these communities are going to work together for one purpose.”

Gonzalez said the meetings leading up to an agreement to expand BiNED have been very productive and instructive. “Eisenhower said plans are useless but planning is essential. Our leading up to this is a classic example of that. In our constant effort to define how we work together, it strengthened our vision. People would say, ‘I thought you meant this.’ The response would be, ‘Well, no I didn’t mean that but, as you mention it, I kind of like it. Let’s incorporate that’.”

Before locating in the Valley Gonzalez was based in Central Texas, serving for two terms as mayor of Kyle. He said he used to follow with interest all the tech companies starting up in Austin. “You would see all these founders of these start-ups argue over what percent they would get. Everybody wanted that controlling majority. They would fight over percentages of a company that was worth nothing. It is the same here in the Valley. We can all try to hold on to our little corner of the Valley. But, things would stay at the same value. It was not hard (to come together for BiNED) because we realized it has not worked that well for us in the past. Going forward we just know we need to work together. You can tell in the conversations. The first few meetings we had, everybody just stuck to the bullet points. After a while there was more casual discussion and more idea-sharing. It was powerful, leaders from across the Valley sharing their thoughts on how to move the Valley forward and what role their community could play in it.”

Asked how different BiNED would be from the Rio South Texas Economic Council, Gonzalez said: “BiNED will be more research based. We have to find the answers that have been eluding us for decades. The very first thing is the supply chain analysis. To our knowledge that is something nobody else has done. What is the applied research we need to do to find the solutions that put us in a better position?” Possibly going forward, Gonzalez said, RSTEC could market the work of BiNED.

Gonzalez said a key role for BiNED will be to build upon the base that maquila sector provides the region. According to INDEX, the trade association for maquila firms in Mexico, maquiladoras employ 66 percent of the workers in the state of Tamaulipas, either directly or indirectly. “The maquilas are cost centers. It is all about how inexpensively things can be assembled. As a community we are obligated to say, well, we got the maquilas because of labor costs, how do we leverage that and build on that? We want to compete on innovation, on technology, on research. That is something we do not have a lot of infrastructure for. To start building that infrastructure you have to recognize where the opportunities are and that goes back to your supply chain analysis.”

In an invitation letter to their counterparts in the upper Valley, the mayors of Brownsville, Matamoros and Harlingen wrote of their vision for BiNED. Mayors Tony Martinez, Leticia Salazar and Chris Boswell said BiNED is being designed to incorporate both sides of the South Texas-Tamaulipas border into a seamless entity that will endorse, promote and secure the vitality of the region.

“Uniting through BiNED will allow all of us to capitalize on both our individual and joint strengths and to overcome any disadvantages which result from competing among and against ourselves rather than joining forces to compete with others across the hemisphere and the globe,” Mayors Martinez, Salazar and Boswell said. “The resulting bi-national focus will enhance our competitive advantages, maximize economic development opportunities, and secure the general prosperity of our region and its residents and businesses.”

The mayors, the founding directors of BiNED, added that they have “established an organizational framework intended to ensure that the mega-region can flourish through cooperation even as it preserves, protects, and maximizes the advantages of each of the communities within the bi-national region.”

Editor’s Note: Mike Gonzalez, executive director of United Brownsville, is pictured in the main image accompanying this story.