MCALLEN, RGV – When Gov. Greg Abbott deploys the National Guard to the South Texas border, he should make the point that the troops are not there to protect Rio Grande Valley cities.

This is the view of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. In an interview about the recent U.S.-Japan Council’s Japan-Texas economic summit in Houston, which Darling attended, the McAllen mayor stressed the importance of projecting the right image.

“El Paso made the pitch that their city is safe in their speech at the summit and so did we,” Darling said.

“When the governor deploys the National Guard here, there has got to be some sort of publicity from the state to say, we are not doing it to protect the cities. That our cities are safe.”

Darling said he was horrified to hear the comments of a guest speaker at a recent economic development meeting held in McAllen.

“The speaker said four people told her not to come down, that it is too dangerous, that you don’t want to go to the Valley. I am not an expert in marketing but we have to keep pounding this point, that McAllen and the Valley is safe,” Darling said.

Darling said he chose the theme Safe & Sound for his state of the city address earlier this year in order to get the message out.

“We need to spend some marketing dollars on this. The first thing people say when they visit the Valley is, we are surprised, what a neat place this is. We need to send people back with ammunition to go back and tell people, hey, I was down there, here is the reality of the border. Maybe that is a good theme, The Reality of the Border.”

Japan-Texas Economic Summit

With regard to the Japan-Texas economic summit, Darling said he and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation struck a very positive note. He said they did well to counter the notion, put out by some of the larger metropolitan areas of Texas, that there is a “golden triangle” in Texas where all the foreign investment happens.

U.S.-Japanese Council, chairperson is a Bulldog from McAllen.

“People talk about the triangle, the Houston, San Antonio, Dallas triangle, but we are pretty well known too, especially in the Japanese industrial sector. When you look at the number of Japanese companies in these big cities, it is between 20 and 30. Well, we have 24 in our areas. We are a big player. We are well-known and it was refreshing to see that recognized.”

Darling recalled the time he visited Japan with McAllen EDC leaders to help Japanese company ALPS recruit more suppliers for their Reynosa-McAllen operations.

“We need to do more work on this. With just in time manufacturing, we have a strong base of Japanese companies in Reynosa. We have a liaison in Mexico helping the existing maquilas. Serving our existing manufacturers is really important, and so is recruiting suppliers for them, hopefully on this side.”

Darling said it did not hurt that the chairperson of the U.S.-Japan Council is a McAllen Bulldog. Donna Cole, CEO of Cole Chemical in Houston was born and raised in McAllen.

“We made the point that we have been doing this for a while. The San Antonios and Houstons started to attract Japanese companies over the last 20 years. We have been doing it for the last 30 years,” Darling said.

“While we had a lot of Japanese officials pitching for the U.S. to invest in Japan, the summit was a really good networking opportunity. We met some old friends and made some new ones. We are anxious to continue the relationships.”

Asked about the irony that he was in Houston to highlight the significant investment McAllen-Reynosa receives from Japan at a time when some of the emerging McAllen leaders are questioning the city’s  economic interdependence with Reynosa, Darling said:

“I grew up in Rochester and we had 60,000 workers at Kodak Park. In Reynosa we have 120,000 manufacturing workers. The manufacturing in Reynosa is world class, one electronics firm even manufactures things for our own CIA. Many people do not realize the manufacturing is world class. Most people do not travel down Military Highway here in McAllen. We have over four million square feet of logistics and some factories. In Reynosa, the set up is amazing and on our side is pretty impressive. I do not think the average citizen of McAllen understands that our even sees it.”

MEDC Viewpoint

At a McAllen EDC board meeting, Keith Patridge, the group’s president and CEO, gave a review of the Japan-Texas economic summit. He said the McAllen-Reynosa area has about 24 Japanese manufacturing companies.

“We were there with eight cities that had a hospitality suites. I do not want to brag but we probably had the best hospitality suite there. We were competing with cities like San Antonio and Dallas and I think we had the most interest. Our room was full. We were watching everyone tearing down and leaving and we still had people in ours, eating and drinking and talking and having a good time.”

Patridge said the summit he has been contacted by the Secretary of State. “His office wants us to do more international partnerships. That has the promise of helping us with future opportunities, more industrial development in our area,” Patridge said.

Laura Warren, chair of McAllen EDC, agreed the Japan-Texas economic summit had been a success.

“A lot of people from Dallas, Houston and Austin were saying that was the economic triangle for Japanese investment. We were a bit taken aback by this because we know the strength we have with our Japanese partners, Warren said.

“Mayor Darling’s presentation was the most memorable. He hit the right points. He asked the people there, who has been to McAllen or has business in McAllen and close to 80 percent of the attendees raised their hands. We did not have to say, we are part of the triangle. We are the destination.”

Brandon Garcia, McAllen EDC’s marketing specialist, said: “We definitely compared to what they put forward. I think our branding is really strong. The name recognition and the design did a lot to make McAllen stand out.”

Editor’s Note: The images contained in the slideshow accompanying the above story were taken by Brandon Garcia for McAllen Economic Development Corporation at the Japan-Texas Economic Summit.