On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong reported from the lunar surface, “Houston, the Eagle has landed.” You know the line that comes next well, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Back then, the world’s eyes were on Houston.

Today, their eyes are on the Rio Grande Valley, the gateway to the future. But make no mistake that future isn’t going to be easy to achieve. We face real challenges, our infrastructure, our climate, and our communities need investments and smart policies. If we want our people building the next gateway to mars, we need to take action now. 

It took a lot to make a moment like landing on the moon happen. Think about the human capital whose hands built the rocket, module, and products that safely got our astronauts there and back. Think about the bold action from elected officials, community engagement and support, and critical investment in infrastructure. That’s the kind of vision and determination we need today. It is an inspiration for my generation, who yearns for a bright future in our beloved Valley, and it’s the future we’re ready to build.

South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley need a serious investment in infrastructure, climate, and economic solutions. The RGV is on the move with 16,300 new annual jobs created, but that is not nearly enough and poverty is holding us back. Unemployment is way too high — 8.9% in Hidalgo County, 7.9% in Cameron County (the statewide unemployment rate is just 5.9%). Recent floods remind us that climate change is here and we need to take action now to protect our wetlands which guard against flooding and improve our water systems. Our road, electric, and port infrastructure all need enhancements to drive our growth into the future.

The Build Back Better Agenda presents the best opportunity this generation has had to take the bold action necessary to secure our future. If Congress acts now, they will lower costs for American families, revitalize the pandemic-battered economy, and combat climate change, all while creating millions of new good-paying jobs. The RGV is poised to win big if this legislative package passes. We’ll get tremendous resources for projects that build out our infrastructure, improve our homes and neighborhoods, and invest in our clean energy sector. That means construction jobs, energy and engineering jobs, and jobs along the entire supply chain. Already, Willacy and Cameron County wind energy prospects have exploded in the past 5 years. Willacy County is the #1 wind energy-producing county in Texas, and Texas produces more wind energy than any other state in the country.

If Congress gets this done, our challenges will become opportunities. Decades ago, the Rio Grande Valley was a rural, agriculture-based economy, and today, we have transformed into a major international trade hub with commercial, retail, industrial, medical, retirement, and higher education institutions. Now, the Rio Grande Valley can lead the way to a new era of economic growth, and we will have the backing and investment of the federal government to do it. That’s the kind of moment we’re getting ready for at the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation with our eBridge Center, an upcoming collaborative incubator and resource center that supports innovators and business owners to get their projects going.

An army of workers, engineers, builders, doers, and dreamers from across the country made landing on the moon possible. The Lunar Module that housed the crew was built in Bethpage, New York. The Saturn V rocket that took them to space was designed in Alabama and tested in Mississippi. These communities were critical to advancements in space travel, but we have the potential to be in a completely different league. Someday in our future, when the Rio Grande Valley sends humans to Mars, humanity will have achieved something that started right here with us. The human capital of our community can lead to building the next gateway to the future, but only if we get things right on our infrastructure and climate today.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Nathan Burkhart, director of Small Business Development at the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC), the Type B Economic Development Organization for the City of Brownsville. A Brownsville native, Burkhart strategically develops programs and incentives for startup growth and development in Brownsville with the end goal of creating a sustainable ecosystem of entrepreneurship in the Rio Grande Valley. 

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