EDINBURG, Texas – Edinburg City Manager Ron Garza is proud of the way economic development is being retooled in his city, believing it will improve investment opportunities.
Garza recently spoke at a webinar hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. The webinar showcased the growth of Edinburg and new projects and programs on the horizon.
“When I got here in March, something that I really wanted to do was enhance our economic development corporation structure,” Garza explained on the webinar. “So myself and our legal team, we really looked at benchmarks. We talked to folks in San Antonio and Austin. We really wanted to model what larger cities were doing.”
That research led Garza to bring about a major overhaul of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation’s bylaws. Previously, the EDC had five members. That was increased to seven.
“That allowed us to have a composition of dedicated seats. So, we now have a dedicated seat for small business. We now have a dedicated seat for education and workforce. We wanted to make sure that the appointed officials of the EDC were very dedicated and comprised a good cross section.”
Garza told the webinar that some EDCs tend to exist in a silo, separate and apart from city operations.
“We wanted to be much more efficient. We wanted make sure we created a dedicated, one-door approach,” he explained.
So, Edinburg has now a newly created a city department of economic development, with all the staff being employees of the city.
“However, the department does the staffing function for the EDC,” Garza explained. “So, there is much greater alignment. So, if we are talking tax collection rates, or the general fund on the city side, or the EDC budget, there is going to be much more seamless alignment.”
The director of the City of Edinburg’s economic development department is Blanca Davila. Davila used to be director of community and economic development at the Lower Rio Grande Development Council when Garza was its executive director.
“Blanca Davila, our department head, our director for the economic development department, she is going to be the investment and anybody that wants to do business, she is kind of our port of entry,” Garza said.
“What Blanca can do, now we have better alignment with the city, is, through Brian and myself, we can connect internally all our other city departments. So, public safety, public works, our utilities, our water department… instead of just trying to competitively incentivize businesses to come here, we are going to help you make a better business case and also really try to eliminate what people usually foresee as red tape. We think we are well underway in making that happen.”
The “Brian” Garza was speaking about is Brian Kelsey, Edinburg’s new assistant city manager. Garza said Kelsey will specialize on economic development. Both Kelsey and Davila were on the RGVP webinar with Garza.
During the webinar, Garza also spoke about Edinburg being a gateway city for the Rio Grande Valley. He noted that Edinburg holds this distinction with Raymondville. Both are the cities a visitor from the north first reaches traveling down the region’s two north-south interstates. In Raymondville’s case it is I-69 East. In Edinburg’s case it is I-69 Central.
Garza pointed out Edinburg has a lot of land that can be developed to the north and east. “We know that is going to be an investment for the future.” He said the city also has a large ETJ (extra territorial jurisdiction), measuring 189 square miles. “There is a lot of room not only to our north but actually to our east as well for expansion, so that is something we are definitely going to capitalize on.”
Garza said those that keep abreast of developments at the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority and the Rio Grande Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization will know about some major transportation projects slated to impact Edinburg.
“There are going to be some exciting projects that really logistically help bring Edinburg into focus,” Garza said. He listed some of them.
“We have the Pharr interchange that is going to be built. We have our west loop that is going to come off the Madero Bridge and come around western Hidalgo County. We have FM 490 that will connect to our airport. And we also have our FM 1925, which is Monte Cristo Road. That is going to connect I-69 C to I-69 E, which will eventually connect to a second causeway with our partners in Cameron County.”
Garza showed a map that listed these highway developments. “So, logistically, you can see from the map we will have so many more access points coming in the future.”
Garza also spoke with pride about Edinburg’s new transit terminal, for which a ribbon-ribbon-cutting ceremony was recently held, in collaboration with Valley Metro.
“We are really proud to say we have six routes that come to (the transit center) and we just added two additional routes. So, public transportation is also a big hub for us. From that terminal, which is not quite a block from city hall, you can literally go to any point in the Rio Grande Valley, using Valley Metro. That is something we are really proud of.”
Growing Fast, Growing Smart
Garza said Edinburg’s leadership recently coined a new phrase, Growing Fast, Growing Smart. He explained why.
“Much like other parts of the Rio Grande Valley, we are growing fast. It is something I want to communicate to our public, to investors, to our elected officials, not only are we growing fast, but we want to ensure we are growing smart. So, a new catch phrase for our operational outlay, so to speak, is Growing Fast, Growing Smart.”
Garza noted that Edinburg is in the top 50 nationwide and the top 12 in Texas for population growth. “We are one of the fastest growing metro areas for those above 50,000 population.” The Census Bureau’s data bears this out. In 1990, Edinburg’s official population stood at 34,593. In 2019 it was estimated to be 101,170, making it the 308th largest city in the United States.
“We just finished our Census self-response campaign and I am really proud to say that the City of Edinburg had the highest self-response in the entire Rio Grande Valley. We had 66.5 percent. So, we are projecting that if all the numbers come to play the way we think they will, the City of Edinburg will crest over 100,000. We are officially a big city, over 100,000. Our growth has been pretty tremendous.”
Noting the City of Edinburg has over 1,000 employees, Garza said staff are about to update the city’s five-year comprehensive plan. “This is a visionary plan that sets the structure for the next five years of growth.”
Garza said Edinburg also has a unified development code, which are a set of ordinances dealing with development. Garza said this will be updated in the first half of 2021. He said stakeholder input will be a very important part of the process.
Garza concluded his remarks by stressing that the City of Edinburg thinks regionally.
“We know the success of the region is the success of Edinburg and vice versa. The success of Edinburg will will translate to cities all across the Rio Grande Valley. We are truly committed to doing smart growth with all our partnering cities around us. We are not here to undercut one another. We are here to leverage the assets we have to make sure the entire Valley prospers.”
Editor’s Note: The above feature on the Rio Grande Valley Partnership’s showcasing of the City of Edinburg is the first in a three-part series. Part Two will be posted early next week.
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