REYNOSA, Mexico – The rapid growth of Reynosa over the last 15 years, fueled in part by the maquiladora industry, caught city leaders by surprise.

Now, however, the city is investing in the infrastructure needed to cope with a large influx of workers from other parts of Mexico and Central American countries.

“We grew so fast. We probably had an increase of 30 or 40 percent in our population,” said Serafín Gómez, Reynosa’s director of potable water and drainage. “We were not ready, ten or 15 years ago. We did not have the infrastructure to cope with all the people that came in.  I think we are finally catching up with the infrastructure we need.”

According to the federal government, Reynosa has a population of just over 600,000. However, no city official believes that figure to be true. “We get funding from the federal government based upon our population. So, if the government only has a certain budget it suits them to say a certain figure. We believe we have between 800,000 to one million people. The number fluctuates depending on the work we have,” Gómez said.

Gómez made his remarks in an interview with the Guardian at the Holiday Inn in Reynosa on Friday. Governor Egidio Torre Cantú and Manuel Rodríguez, secretary of public works for Tamaulipas, were there to give an update on infrastructure projects. The ballroom at the hotel was filled with the heads of many Tamaulipas state departments and their staff, in addition to Reynosa business leaders and city officials.

Among the new infrastructure projects currently under construction in Reynosa are two new expressways, a park and lake designed to attract tourists, and a soccer stadium.

Reynosa Mayor Everardo Villarreal Salinas said he hopes the soccer stadium will be completed next month and that a professional soccer team will be playing there in August. It will have over 100 luxury boxes for corporate patrons. Eventually, the mayor wants to see the team playing the big soccer teams in Mexico, such as America of Mexico City, Chivas of Guadalajara, and Los Tigres of Monterrey. “We have to attend to the employment of our people but we also have to have fun in the city,” Villarreal told the Guardian, in a wide-ranging interview.

Villarreal said Reynosa has been waiting ten years for the investment in infrastructure that is now happening. “We have been growing fast in such a short amount of time. All the needs we have, with our governor we will accomplish them,” he said. “We can all see the benefits. We have lots of projects on the go. We are paving a lot of streets. It is going to be good for Reynosa. It will mean more employment, a bigger city. We will remain the No. 1 city in Tamaulipas,” Villarreal said.

Nancy Hernández Almaguer, president of the citizen’s committee for public security in Reynosa, says security has improved in Reynosa. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)
Nancy Hernández Almaguer, president of the citizen’s committee for public security in Reynosa, says security has improved in Reynosa. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

Villarreal believes the population of Reynosa to be one million. He said the aim is to lower the unemployment rate and reestablish tourism. That can be done, he said, by focusing on security and improving the highway system. “We are building two new expressways and we have improved security a lot. The better the security, the more employment and money we have in our economy. It is going to be good,” he said.

Villarreal said he is encouraged by the rebound in the maquiladora industry following the ravages of the recession. INDEX Reynosa, which is the trade group for 122 maquilas, says 50 percent of the jobs lost during the recession have now returned. The industry currently employs 86,000 workers spread across 11 industrial parks.

“Some maquilas in Asia are closing and coming here. That means more employment for our people. And, in turn, this is good for the Rio Grande Valley. If the Valley is growing, we are growing. And, vice-versa. If we are growing, the Valley is growing,” Villarreal said.

“We have to work at this together, Reynosa and the Valley. We have to coordinate our future projects together. We have to work hard, 100 percent, every day.”

Gómez, who runs potable water and drainage for Reynosa, agreed that major U.S. corporations that have maquilas in Asia are now looking at Mexico again. He said the reason is the concept of Just in Time delivery. “With Just in Time, you need to be next to your marketplace. You do not want materials stored on the other side of the world. We are seeing an increase in the maquila industry. But, so much depends on the economy in the U.S. and how things are going on along the border,” Gómez said.

Gómez was asked why the city of Reynosa cannot pave more roads in its colonias. One of the negative things U.S. visitors notice when they visit the city, away from the downtown area, are the dusty, unpaved streets, that lead to the different neighborhoods.

“The last two city governments have been working on paving our streets but we only have ten or 15 percent of the budget we need. Plus we have new development all the time,” Gómez explained. “The problem is the community land. It has been sold and a lot of people are selling it as lots and then people come in ask for city services. We cannot catch up on all the need we have on that type of land. They are called irregular colonias.”

Gómez also spoke about the exciting new Laguna de la Escondida project. The city’s biggest lake will have a hike and bike trail. It is next to the city’s major culture center. “Phase 1, the dredging of the lake, should be completed this year. We hope the project will be fully completed in two or three years. It all depends on our budget,” Gómez said. “It is going to be good for locals and also national and international tourists. The good thing is it is already planned. We have a master plan. We have title to the property.”

Gómez added that Reynosa city officials are planning for the long term. He said the city is ready for the next big increase in workers looking for employment. “We want an influx from other states. We have to be ready for any eventuality. We do not want to be caught by surprise like we were 15 years ago,” he said.

Nancy Hernández Almaguer is president of the citizen’s committee for public security in Reynosa. Like Mayor Villarreal, she said security has improved.

“Things are better. The people are more comfortable. We need to trust our security agencies. We have developed good plans. We now work under a new police. Our police have better salaries and better education. This makes for a better prepared policeman,” Hernández Almaguer said.

“Right now we have municipal, state, ministerial police, a lot of different jurisdictions. In future we will have one police, which will give better control for the government.”

Asked what her message for potential Valley visitors and Winter Texans was, Hernández Almaguer said: “We say to the tourists, please come because the security is better and we need to activate our economy. We need more tourists, we want to receive them. I can only tell the tourists, give us a chance.”

Silbano Hernández Díaz is vice president of culture and tourism for the Reynosa Chamber of Commerce. Originally from Houston, Hernández Díaz has a souvenir store just a couple of blocks from the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge. Hernández Díaz said that compared to when he started five years ago, trade has dropped 40 to 50 percent. Much of the drop, he said, is due to a decrease in tourists from the U.S.

“I believe the news media in Reynosa and in Mexico does us a great disservice. You must not believe everything you see in the news. There are fights but they do not really bother us,” Hernández Díaz said.

“I do not like to watch the news because it is all negative. It is damaging the city, the businesses. The newspapers and the TV stations do not have the balance right. When I ask the reporters why they have all the bloody pictures on the front page, they tell me bad news sells. That is how they make their business. Why can’t they put the good news on the front page? Why can’t they report what the governor, the president, is saying?”

Hernández Díaz said the Reynosa chamber of commerce is doing well. He said it currently has 4,000-plus members and expects it to grow over the next year. “The economy is okay. We are making it,” he said.

Hernández Díaz concluded his interview by encouraging American visitors to visit his store, which is at 805 Zaragoza. “We have hand-made sandals, hand-made pots of clay, Mexican candy and home-made fresh corn bread.” He said a great business expo will start next to Soriano Hidalgo next Tuesday. “It will run from Feb. 12 to March 10. Each Sunday there will be a different theme, catering for bikers, old cars, etc. It will be a lot of fun,” Hernández Díaz said.