HARLINGEN, RGV – Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell says the latest sales tax collection report by the Comptroller’s Office shows just how well his city’s retail sector is doing.
Year to date, with ten months of reporting completed, Harlingen’s sales tax revenues are up 5.09 percent, as compared to last year. In August, the most recent month analyzed, sales tax revenues for Harlingen were up 8.33 percent, as compared to the same month in 2016.
Some of the other larger cities in the Rio Grande Valley have not fared as well. Year to date, sales tax revenues are down for Brownsville (1.6 percent), McAllen (2.94 percent), Mission (3.00 percent) and Edinburg (1.4 percent).
“The retail sales tax numbers just came out for September, which is the end of our fiscal year and Harlingen’s retail sales tax numbers were up over eight percent. And for the year, 4.6 percent. This compares very favorably with the rest of the Valley. I think of the larger cities, we gained the most,” Boswell said proudly.
Asked if this is because Harlingen relies less heavily on Mexican shoppers than some other Valley cities, Boswell said: “I think that is true but it is starting to change, especially with the opening of Bass Pro Shop. We do have more Mexican shoppers in the city than we have had historically.”
Asked to give an overview on the Harlingen economy, Boswell said: “It is always good to see progress and we have had a lot more retail that has come online, lots of new construction. I think that is contributing to the growth in our retail sales tax numbers.”
Boswell said his city can look forward to even more success when its new convention center opens towards the end of 2018. The convention center is expected to draw attendees from outside of the city and many of these will spend money in Harlingen.
“We have broken ground on our convention center and we are excited about that. Opening hopefully by the year end 2018,” Boswell said. “There will be a Hilton Garden Inn alongside the convention center. It will be attached to the convention center, the only one in the Valley like that. There will be a tunnel between the hotel and the convention center. It is going to be nice. It is a $16.7 million project. It will cover 43,000 square feet and we will be able to seat over 1,000 people in it, with lots of different configurations. It is going to be a personal, multi-use facility.”
Boswell said another reason for optimism is Harlingen’s downtown renovations. “We have our downtown project get underway, the restoration of our nine-story downtown tower. And we have lots of other positive things going on. There is nothing else I can announce right now, but, perhaps in the next 60 days from now we will have more exciting news to announce.”
Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council, analyzes the Comptroller’s sales tax collection reports each month. He said he is impressed with how well Harlingen is doing.
“The latest numbers reflect sales tax collections in August 2017. They show Harlingen up 8.33 percent compared to August 2016. Year to date, with ten months of reporting, Harlingen is up 5.09 percent,” Ruszczak said.
“Harlingen has been a very consistent performer for this year. I think Harlingen is a good bell-weather in terms of the local market because the city is driven very much by the local population. It has some retail shoppers coming in from the surrounding communities and from outside the area, but it has a very strong local base. It is a very good bell-weather for how our local economy is doing. It speaks very well for the overall economy in the region. Some of our other cities are impacted more by external factors. Harlingen less so. It is a very positive sign for Harlingen. It shows our local economy is strengthening. The sales tax numbers are growing.”
Looking at the rest of the Valley, Ruszczak said Cameron County cities are doing well overall. Brownsville’s sales tax revenues for August 2017 are up 6.69 percent, compared to August 2016. Year to date Brownsville’s numbers are down 1.6 percent. San Benito’s sales tax revenues for August 2017 are up 4.86 percent, compared to August 2016. Year to date Brownsville’s numbers are up 4.08 percent.
Ruszczak said the threat of a hurricane no doubt impacted South Padre Island’s sales tax revenues for August 2017. They were down 7.67 percent. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in the last month of August. Year to date, South Padre Island’s sales tax revenues are up 5.95 percent.
In Hidalgo County, some cities are doing better than others. In August 2017, sales tax revenues were up in Weslaco (3.42 percent), Pharr (4.33 percent), Alamo (7.12 percent), Donna (0.81 percent) and San Juan (4.4 percent). Cities that saw a decrease in sales tax revenues in August 2017 include Edinburg (2.64 percent), McAllen (1 percent), Mercedes (7.33 percent) and Mission (8.96 percent). Ruszczak said he would put an asterisk against the Mission numbers because they show a sharp decrease in sales tax collections. He said next month’s numbers could rectify the sales tax figure for Mission.
Year to date, with ten months of reporting in, Hidalgo County cities showing an increase in sales tax revenues include Weslaco (2.31 percent), Pharr (1.05 percent), Donna (2.57 percent) and San Juan (2.48 percent).
Year to date, with ten months of reporting in, Hidalgo County cities showing a decrease in sales tax revenues include McAllen (2.31 percent), Mercedes (11.92 percent), Mission (3.00 percent) Edinburg (1.40 percent) and Alamo (2.17 percent).
“All in all, a regional drop of just one percent over the last ten months is quite a positive sign, all things considered, with all the external factors impacting us,” Ruszczak said. Among the external factors impacting the region have been a decline in the peso, which meant Mexican shoppers visiting the Valley had less spending power.