President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump met at the White House on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.
President Barack Obama and President-Elect Donald Trump met at the White House on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016.

McALLEN, RGV – Economic development leaders in the Rio Grande Valley say they are upbeat about what a Trump presidency will mean for the border region.

Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council, says because so many of the issues brought up during this year’s election campaign impact the border region, RGV leaders have a great opportunity to interject themselves in the national conversation.

Matt Ruszczak
Matt Ruszczak

“We will analyze this for quite a while but one of the key takeaways everyone can agree on is that economic opportunity, international relations, the transformation of our economic system, and our immigration system are key and at the forefront of the mind of the American voter and the American people,” Ruszczak said.

“Our region encompasses the epicenter of many of these issues. So, we will have a strong focus on our region and we will have a lot of conversations about regions like ours throughout the border region, throughout the United States. So, I think this presents a tremendous opportunity for us.”

Asked to elaborate, Ruszczak said: “A Trump presidency puts us center stage. It will shine a light on us and it will give all of us the opportunity to tell our story, to highlight the successes that we have had in our region over various decades; to highlight the local solutions that we have found for national and international problems; to highlight the recipe for prosperity that we have in this region and to be able to tell our story ourselves, to have the microphone, to be in front of the camera. To tell people what the Valley and what the border region is truly all about and the opportunities it offers, not only to the people who live here but to the people throughout the state and throughout the country.”

Ruszczak said border residents have gained a certain expertise by virtue of having lived and worked in a binational and bicultural community.

“The understanding of international trade, dealing with multi-cultural groups on a daily basis, speaking in multiple languages on a daily basis, all of these are great advantages. All of these skills, we will be able to share with the nation, and highlight how the keys to success we have developed locally may be applicable as keys to the success for the state and for the country,” Ruszczak said.

“So, I am, personally, extremely upbeat at this opportunity. It is a challenge but it is much more an opportunity for us, to showcase our region, to showcase our solutions, and to lead that conversation, to lead that national dialogue that will undoubtedly emerge from the election results and what is coming in the next months and potentially years.”

Ruszczak added: “We have the opportunity to lead the dialogue, the opportunity to shape the reality and we have the opportunity to make a difference. I am thrilled and excited to see our leaders throughout this region stepping up to the plate and taking a leadership role, shaping that reality and making a positive difference for our region, our state, our nation and the world as a whole.”

Keith Patridge, president and CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, was equally sanguine about a Trump presidency.

“Maybe I am optimist but I am really upbeat. We have always worked on, whatever life deals you, you deal with it. We now have, for the first time I can remember in my lifetime, a president-elect who owes no allegiance to anyone except for the American voter. He does not owe major contributors, he does not owe political parties, he does not owe unions. He does not owe anyone. This guy understood the feelings of the American electorate. There was a direct connect between the voters and him and I don’t think that is going to go away with the election,” Patridge said.

Like Ruszczak, Patridge said border leaders have an opportunity to interject themselves in the national debate as Trump formulates his policies.

“I think, front and center, Trump is going to do what is in the best interests of the nation. I think we all share that view. We have to get our message out and how we think things ought to be handled in our area in connection to trade between the U.S. and Mexico. It is up to us to make sure we get that message to him and his people as they start putting this interaction with Mexico, the border wall, protecting the border with Mexico, into action. I think that is what we are going to be seeing. I think now, quite frankly, the burden is on us.”

Patridge said he does not believe Trump will repeal the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Keith Patridge
Keith Patridge

“What he has said is he is in favor of free trade as long as it is fair. He said there are provisions in that bill that are unfair. Look at the blockade between Rio Bravo and Reynosa the other day.  They were protesting the reduction in subsidies that was given to them by the Mexican government. Those subsidies were put in place because of the disparities caused by NAFTA. They said, there were provisions in NAFTA they did not like. We probably do have to go in and review these trade agreements.”

Asked for his view on NAFTA, Patridge said: “NAFTA has not been good for us. It has not been good for this region. I remember how things were before NAFTA and we were doing just fine.
Were we doing business here? Were the maquilas doing business? Of course they were. Companies  would produce with U.S. components and use Mexican labor to assembly it. They would ship it back and under U.S. Customs provisions, they only paid duty on the non-U.S. components. That is why they were on the border. It very well could be that this is how it shakes out again. The companies could say, we are not going to locate in the interior we are going to locate on the border.”

Asked if Trump’s economic policies could help the Rust Belt States and South Texas, Patridge answered affirmatively.

“I think the Rust Belt can be happy and we can be happy. We have a huge opportunity. In order for this relationship between Mexico and the United States to be fair, everybody has to get something out of it. When you move an auto plant from Detroit to the center of Mexico, that clearly does not create any jobs for the U.S. I think Trump is going to say, if you are going to benefit from it, we have to benefit from it also. How are we going to benefit from it? Maybe we look at doing some of the production on the U.S. side and some on the Mexican side.”

Asked how the economy might be doing a couple of years into Trump’s presidency, Patridge offered an unusual analogy.

“If you look at the U.S. economy right now, we have been growing at less than one percent a year for eight years. I equate it to having a dog. Have you ever seen a dog tied up all day that wants to run? You put a collar on him and take him outside. He is ready to run but you hold him back. That is our economy. Our economy is sitting there ready to run but it is leashed with these regulations. As soon as you unclip that leash that dog is going to take off like a rocket. I think you are going to see, a year from now, we are going to have a growth rate of four and a half to five percent.”

Patridge said the economy could do even better than that but it might be held back by a skills shortage in the workplace. “I think Trump knows this. We are going to run into skills shortages and companies will complain they cannot fill the jobs. At that point he (Trump) will come in with an educational training program and he will look at recruiting people from abroad with the skills we need. He is going to open it up for skilled technicians.”

Asked for wrap up remarks, Patridge said: “I would not want to go in and negotiate with Trump because I think I would leave without my pants. The guy knows how to negotiate. Business understands this. You never negotiate from your final point – you negotiate from some place way over and then you start working your way in. Everybody is talking doom and gloom but I think, if Trump stays pure to the people who elected him, he could be one of the best presidents we have ever seen. We have to make sure we get our message to him and his appropriate Cabinet members or staff.”