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MCALLEN, RGV – If McAllen and San Miguel de Allende are to build on a city sister agreement, air travel must be improved between the Rio Grande Valley and the Bajío region of north-central Mexico, local leaders say.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling and San Miguel de Allende Mayor Ricardo Villarreal Garcia signed a sister city agreement at McAllen City Hall on Thursday. Earlier in the day, Darling told McAllen Economic Development Corporation board members that many business leaders in the Bajío region want direct flights to McAllen.

The Bajío (lowland) region includes the states Aguascalientes, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Querétaro. San Miguel de Allende is on the eastern end of Guanajuato. North east of the region lies San Luis Potosi. Darling led a delegation of McAllen officials to the region last week. The region has a booming maquiladora industry and several major auto assembly plants.

‘We met with several airlines down in San Luis Potosi for the Bajío area because that is really the area where we have a connection that needs air service,” Darling told the MEDC board. “I talked to Liz and I said the problem with air service from Mexico to McAllen is that 100 percent of the people have to be going to McAllen because of customs and immigration issues. They all have to get off the plane and stay here. You do not have the ability to have 30 percent go to McAllen and the rest go to Houston or Dallas. So, I think that is one of our biggest problems – it is the load factor.”

Liz Suarez is director of aviation for the City of McAllen.

Mexican airline Aeromar started non-stop flights from San Luis Potosi to McAllen in 2013. However, it cancelled the service at the end of the following year because demand did not reach target figures. The San Luis Potosi route only saw 30 percent or fewer of its seats filled on a monthly basis, Suarez reported at the time. “The goal was 50 percent, so it wasn’t quite a success,” Suarez said.

Darling told the MEDC board that instead of hoping to get direct flights from the Bajío region to McAllen, a better bet might be to work with Reynosa Airport.

“I have been working with our downtown transit and I have talked to CBP about using Reynosa as the site and having a great bus service where we pick them up on a nice bus. They go across the bridge relatively quickly. Have a special program. And then go to our airport bus station or wherever. That has got some traction,” Darling said.

“Hopefully we can get that done. That seems to me to make the most sense for getting the Bajío region to come to McAllen, via Reynosa. I know Liz (Suarez) does not like that because it is not the airport service, but Mario likes it because it is a bus service. Hopefully, we will get that done. I know the people in that region are very concerned. They have to go to Mexico City to fly into McAllen. It is a bit like us, having to go to Houston to get to Mexico City.”

Mario Delgado is transit director for the City of McAllen.

Sister City Agreement

After signing the sister city agreement, the mayors of McAllen and San Miguel de Allende spoke about improving cultural and trade connections between the two cities.

“I am sure we will do great things together. We have 12,000 U.S. citizens (in San Miguel de Allende) and a U.S. Consulate. A lot of the economic activity has to do with American ex-pats. Some of them came to San Miguel thinking they were going to retire but maybe they are more active than ever. They have their own restaurants and hotels and galleries and coffee shops. They have a lot of businesses in San Miguel. We all live together as one single family,” Mayor Villarreal said.

“I have always believed that the whole world should think that humans are more alike than different and that the differences we might have should be thought of as our strength. We have not lost the traditions of our culture. We have learned a lot from all the people throughout the world. We are a very cosmopolitan city where you can find any kind of food, Mexican, American, Italian, Japanese.”

Villarreal said McAllen is a lot like San Miguel. “There are people from everywhere. I was told 75 percent of the people in McAllen were not originally from McAllen. That means you are like San Miguel. You embrace them, you work with them. And you have become the city you have because of them. Hopefully, through this agreement we will be able to learn a lot from you.”

Mayor Darling pointed out that the cities of McAllen and San Miguel de Allende are roughly the same size, in population terms.

“Tourism makes up 80 percent of their budget. We certainly depend on tourism although ours is shopping and theirs is more about the culture and history of the area. They emphasize the arts and restaurants. By the way, they got picked as No. 1 city in the world to visit. They are the No. 8 city in the world to shop in. Traffic is probably their biggest problem. We think there are a lot of opportunities to exchange on culture and tourism.”

Darling added that while there has been “animosity towards our neighbors to the south” in national news coverage, McAllen is intent on building sister city agreements with Mexico. “We are explaining, at least to our area, how important Mexico is to us and our border. As we say in McAllen, what happens in Mexico happens in McAllen. We truly believe that. We understand NAFTA and what it means to our city.”

Darling added: “We can exchange culture, we can exchange trade, we can exchange ideas, to make it better both (McAllen and San Miguel de Allende) of our communities. We hope that the designation of the sister city is a beginning, the beginning of an opportunity to enrich our opportunities, expose our citizens to the greatness of your city and vice versa,” Darling said to Villarreal.