McALLEN, RGV – The City of McAllen should scrap the Amigos Always marketing campaign it is running in Mexico and spend the money instead on fortifying the highway in Tamaulipas that leads to Anzalduas Bridge.
This is the view of McAllen businessman Jesus Gonzalez, owner of NIU Urban Living in McAllen.
Gonzalez would like to see the City of McAllen, McAllen Chamber of Commerce, and McAllen Economic Development Corporation yank the $300,000 it is spending on Amigos Always, double it and leverage additional funding from the State of Tamaulipas. With these funds, he would like the City to hire a security firm to patrol the 20 miles of roadway from Anzalduas to the Tamaulipas state line on the tollway to Monterrey.
This stretch of highway needs fortifying, say business leaders, because there have been a lot of car-jackings in recent months.
“The $300,000 or more that the City has invested in that Amigos Always campaign, even if it was a brilliant campaign, it would not work with the Mexican nationals driving through Reynosa. And I don’t blame them. It would be a waste of money because the highway is too dangerous,” Gonzalez said.
“If we can somehow have private security on the highway, in particular from where the State of Tamaulipas starts all the way to Anzalduas Bridge, which is about 30 kilometers, that would give people peace of mind. The people in Monterrey would feel secure about traveling to McAllen. I think we could rebound back, not to 100 percent, but perhaps to 80 percent of where we were.”
Gonzalez spoke at a Futuro McAllen forum on Tuesday evening on the subject of the drop in Mexican nationals shopping and staying in McAllen. He noted that the City of McAllen’s sales tax revenues have dropped $5 million, with many experts blaming violence in Reynosa.
“Shopping is on the decline. We all know that. We need to reinvent ourselves here in South Texas. We have a beautiful beach and a lot of attractions, but not enough to bring in people from other places, such as San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. I have a lot of ideas to make this area more interesting. We need to solve the problem of the traffic and the tourism from Mexico because it is way down,” Gonzalez said.
“Working with a group of entrepreneurs from Mexico, a small committee, we bounce ideas, we have come up with something we think will work but it requires the cooperation of both governments at the state level and perhaps the local level. Probably more the local level because Austin still does not understand us. We need to pitch in, the private sector. We are willing to help pay for the hiring of private security firms to keep the highway secure.”
Gonzalez said McAllen and other Valley cities have taken the custom Mexican shoppers bring for granted for too long. “We have never thanked them. But if people knew we were doing private patrolling on the highway, it would send a strong message. We could run this story in Periodico Norte and other media outlets in Monterrey – I know these outlets because I live half my life over there – before the Christmas season. Maybe we could correct this problem.”
Gonzalez added that he has spoken to five people close to Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca and they all sound optimistic about the chances of eradicating violence in Reynosa.
“I asked if it was going to take a couple of years and they said, no, it would be a lot sooner than that. But, we cannot continue like this. We have lost $5 million in two years. That $300,000 is a very small investment.”
McAllen Mayor Jim Darling participated in a celebration at La Plaza Mall on Thursday morning. Simon Properties, owners of the mall, were unveiling an expansion project with first to market stores that they believe will bring back some of the Mexican shoppers that have been lost. Darling was asked what he thought of Gonzalez’s idea.
“Governor Cabeza de Vaca is already doing something about security on the highway. I think we have to be careful when hiring private security. I think we should explore all kinds of different things with security in Mexico. I certainly think what we did in McAllen recently, with the seminar we held with state and local and federal law enforcement was a step in the right direction,” Darling said.
“But, I am going to wait for the Governor to tell me if we can help somehow. I would never presume they cannot do their job. I think everything is on the table. That (private security on the highway to Anzalduas Bridge) certainly could be on the table but I would much rather have Governor Cabeza de Vaca, who I deeply respect… if he wants our assistance I would love to have him talk to us about it. I would not be so presumptuous to think I know how it could be done over there.”
Like Gonzalez, McAllen hotel manager Ed Lopez spoke at the Futuro McAllen forum on Mexican shoppers. At a McAllen EDC board meeting, Lopez commented on the latest McAllen Area Economic Pulse report put out by the McAllen Chamber.
“Just reviewing the Pulse that has just come out, the report says that occupancy tax receipts were down a sharp 27 percent. I call it a whopping 27 percent. It has been a difficult year for the hoteliers. September seemed to be the worst month for many, many years. Airline boarding is down, bridge crossings are down. It has been a difficult year,” Lopez said.
It is not just McAllen’s retail stores that are suffering from the violence in Reynosa. McAllen EDC officials say the violence is now hurting the maquiladora industry in Reynosa. This impacts McAllen greatly because maquila managers and engineers live in McAllen and many of their employees visit the McAllen area to shop and visit family.
“It has been pretty difficult,” said MEDC President Keith Patridge, in his monthly report. “Lots of comments on what is causing it (violence in Reynosa) but it has been a pretty difficult last month and a half. We are having some violence issues.”
Patridge praised the City of McAllen, law enforcement agencies, and the State of Tamaulipas, for hosting a joint training program for police officers. “It is a good thing. We want to support that so we can get a better handle on what is going on, on the other side of the river.”
Ralph Garcia is a vice president of MEDC and handles business recruitment and expansion in Reynosa. Most months, Garcia’s report is packed with information about companies looking at investing in Reynosa. This month, the report was brief.
“It is brief, unfortunately, because of the circumstances we are dealing with in Mexico. On business retention and expansion activity, we have had some good visits with some of the companies we are working with. I would point out, Cequent Automotive leased an additional 40,000 square feet in Reynosa. They are working on a project in McAllen as well. That is just continued growth,” Garcia said.
“For the most part, we have seen decent activity with the companies, considering what has been going on. There are projects on hold. Security is impacting future opportunities as well, so it is something we will continue to work on and monitor and I hope to have a better report at the beginning of next year.”