MCALLEN, Texas – The City of McAllen is getting $43 million from the federal government for stimulus funding and Mayor Jim Darling believes a big chunk of it should to go towards economic development.

Darling says the focus should be on bringing research and technology firms to his McAllen. He said the city will need to spend money acquiring land for economic development. 

“We received $43 million in stimulus money, on top of what we got for COVID,” Darling said, at a McAllen Economic Development Corporation board meeting on Thursday.

“We had a meeting on Friday to see what we want to do with the money. My No. 1 pitch was economic development, with an emphasis on research, No. 1, and No. 2, buying land. We are running out of land. When companies want to come in, we are looking for property owners to sell.”

Darling pointed out that the stimulus monies must be spent in ways that attract new jobs or be COVID-related. 

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

Interviewed after the MEDC meeting, Darling explained why economic development is his No. 1 issue. 

“It means good jobs. There is a lot of competition but a lot of opportunity. USMCA is going to bring a lot of opportunities,” Darling said.

USMCA stands for the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. 

“There is a lot of development in Mexico right now. That is not USMCA, that is natural development. With USMCA, it is working its way through the cycle. As manufacturers get used to it, the opportunities will be tremendous. So, we had better be ready for it.”

Darling said he would like to see McAllen prioritize on technology side of USMCA.

“That takes money and coordination with a bunch of people. Research and research technology are going be huge. The kind of manufacturing we want is unique. We don’t want the big huge box factory. We want to do some specialized research-related manufacturing.”

Darling said he had spoken to Keith Patridge about it. Patridge is president of McAllen EDC.

“It is a little different to just building a factory. It is focusing on high paying jobs. Working with the university, being able to train people and convince them to come here,” Darling said.

“Everything in the world has been stopped by COVID but once COVID is over and people start getting used to what the USMCA opportunities are, we better be ready to take advantage of that and that is what I am talking about. We need to put the resources behind economic development. Smarter people than me will help figure this out. That is why we have an economic development corporation.”

Darling said the McAllen City Commission met to discuss what to do with the $43 million in federal stimulus funds last Friday. Asked if his colleagues on the commission were in unison on the need to focus on economic development, Darling said:

“They were fine. Everybody has got a big wish list. It is a lot of money, you don’t want to just spend it like a drunken sailor. In their districts there are certain things they would like done. Drainage. We can expedite drainage and pay ourselves back with the fee, so we can do things like that, that make sense.”

Darling will retire as mayor as soon as the election runoff to replace him is known. Asked if many of the decisions on how to spend the $43 million will be taken after he has left office, Darling said:

“I would guess so. We have a strong city commission and we are going to have a couple of new people but we have got a really sound base and so I am really confident that they will do the right things. One of the commissioners that is coming off is going to be the mayor so it is not as though it is a brand new person who is not used to what is going on.”

Darling added: “I am happy. I got my input in at the city commission meeting. I was the one that brought up economic development. It is top of my priorities. I am confident (it will be addressed). I will still be around if people want me. I am dedicated to this city. I am not going to hang around longer than I am wanted or needed.”

MEDC’s Partridge said he has asked Darling to remain on the corporation’s board of directors after he leaves elected office.

Upbeat President’s Report

In his president’s report to the MEDC board, Patridge said the level of interest in businesses wanting to locate in the McAllen-Reynosa area is on the rise. 

“We have 21 projects we are working on. Fourteen in U.S., three in both the U.S. and Mexico and four in Mexico. When you look through this projects, what is encouraging is we have four new ones that came in this month. So, we are beginning to see the market open up again. Companies are beginning to move forward on their projects,” Patridge said.

Patridge said some of these companies are close to making a decision on where they want to build a factory or warehouse.

“We don’t know if we will be successful or not but they are beginning to make decisions. I hope we do not have any backslide (on COVID-19) or anything and that we can continue to move forward and open things up.”

Patridge said meeting potential new clients in Mexico has been hard because of the pandemic. He said many meetings have had to take place via Zoom. 

“There has not been much visitation. They are beginning to open up again and so last week we went over (to Reynosa). Our goal is to meet with every company, just to do a reset. We met with two last week. They were really pleased to have a visitor and (for us) to come in and (for them to) just show off their plant,” Patridge said.

“What is interesting and what we are hearing is that a lot of those companies are looking at major expansions of their Mexico facilities in Reynosa. Some are looking at doubling in size with new construction. Others are looking at some major movement of employees coming into the area. Hopefully that will continue. They are very upbeat.”

Patridge said a pleasing aspect of the labor market right now is that the turnover of workers is down in Reynosa.

“The turnover rate, which is always a big issue in Mexico, is virtually non-existent. It is less than two percent. That will not stay for long with this kind of growth but it is good, right now, that we are seeing a low turnover rate.”

As for McAllen, Patridge said, the problem is more about finding workers.

“In McAllen, as everyone is experiencing, there is a labor availability issue. There is a lot of discussion on what is causing that. It is difficult to find people over here. On the 26th of June the additional (unemployment) benefits will be removed. So we might see people coming back to work.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows research development at Lactalis Nutrition Santé.

GR Fresh

Also at the MEDC board meeting, Felicia Villarreal announced a ribbon cutting ceremony would be held next week for GR Fresh. Villarreal is director of marketing and public relations for MEDC.

The ribbon cutting ceremony will take place at 12 noon on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, at the location of GR Fresh’s new facility at the Sharyland Business Park, 5124 Honduras Ave., McAllen, TX 78503.

GR Fresh is an integrated agri-food company dedicated to producing, distributing, and transporting fresh produce. It has more than 70 years of growing experience, including three decades in McAllen.

In a news release, Villarreal said GR Fresh are “ready to enter demanding domestic markets to develop partnerships that share their goals and vision.”

She pointed out that GR Fresh manages 8,000 acres in Mexico that produce fruits and vegetables exported throughout North America through partnerships with various national grocers.  

Villarreal said: “GR Fresh will be expanding its presence in McAllen with a brand-new two-phase warehouse, with a grand opening celebrating a 60,000 square-foot warehouse during phase one and plans of adding a second phase of 50,000 square feet. The current GR Fresh location is about a third of the future site; therefore, the new facility will bring 50 new jobs to McAllen. The new McAllen facility will host operations including consolidation, repacking, and improved operational efficiencies.”

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