MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen Mayor Jim Darling believes the Rio Grande Valley would be much more effective in recruiting major corporations if its numerous economic development corporations worked together.
Speaking at an economic forum hosted by the McAllen Citizens League, Darling said it is waste of money to have around 20 executive directors and 20 sets of staff for the 20 or so economic development groups in Hidalgo County.
The money that could be saved from pooling resources could be better spent on marketing the region and having a larger budget for incentives.
Darling said he will be the president of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council next year and when he is, he would like to see the subject studied.
“Everybody has got an economic development corporation. Every city has one. We have 23 cities, so I bet you we have at least 20 economic development corporations,” Darling said.
“They all have an executive director who makes an executive director’s pay. They all have staffs. Just think if we had a regional economic effort and we pooled that money, we could compete with any place in the country, easily.”
He repeated the word “easily” for effect. “We would have a budget bigger than San Antonio for economic development. We really would.”
Instead, Darling said, Valley cities spend too much of their time, energy and resources fighting each other.
“You know what we have? We 23 (cities) fighting amongst themselves. So, what happens? We are competing with the rest of the country. We get somebody (a prospective corporation) down here and the second part of the competition starts between us.”
When Valley cities compete with one another the region loses out and the prospective corporation looking to invest wins, the mayor stated.
“I think sometimes people can take advantage of that. They know everybody is competing so everybody has to up the ante. We pay for people to be here to be in our area that go to other places and do not get any incentives. But because they know we want to incentivize to get it in my city, as opposed to your city, we do that.”
Darling reiterated that right now, the Valley loses out.
“I just see deals and I think wow, if we could ever get together. You know what the problem is? (People tell me) ‘I will join you mayor, I am all for it, as long as it is in my city.’ I wish that was something we could talk about seriously.”
Darling then spoke about studying the merger of economic development efforts and a previous attempt to study the impact of having one international bridge system for Hidalgo County.
“I will be president of the council of government next year,” Darling said, referring to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. “I want to do a study on that.”
Darling said he tried to do a study on international bridges but was thwarted in the state legislature.
“We (Hidalgo County) are the only area that has five different bridge owners in the county. Everybody else has one. We are competing against Brownsville, one bridge owner, Laredo, one bridge owner, El Paso, one bridge owner, Nogales, one bridge owner, San Diego. Those are the big ones, one bridge owner. We have five. So, when we are trying to do something and get scarce CBP resources we are competing against each other when really we are competing against those other regions.”
Darling said if there was one international bridge system for Hidalgo County, it would have to include Reynosa, Tamaulipas. “You can’t keep your bridge open for ten hours if Mexico’s is only doing it for eight,” he said.
“I tried to get a (bridge system) study two sessions ago, using Monterrey Tech and UTRGV. Somebody blocked it.”
Darling ended his comments on polling resources by saying. “The opportunity here in the Rio Grande Valley is tremendous, if we ever got our act together, truly got our act together. We would be kicking butt all over the United States.”
In another part of his speech, Darling spoke about changes happening at the McAllen Development Corporation. He said a majority of the board now comprises city commissioners and it has turned its attention to economic development.
“Our goal is to change this into our economic development corporation, as opposed to sending money out to different organizations,” Darling said, while also reaffirming that it will continue its strong relationship with sister organization, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.
“I am excited about our future with economic development. I am excited about the new the partnerships we have created with STC, Texas A&M and UTRGV and making sure we have the workforce available. There is no sense in recruiting companies if you cannot provide the workforce.”
Darling said the top three things prospective companies to the area ask about are: 1) how skilled is the local workforce; 2) violence in Mexico; and 3) incentives.
The security situation in Mexico is going to be even more important, Darling said, if USMCA, the successor trade pact to the North American Free Trade Agreement, is ratified by Congress.
USMCA stands United States-Mexico-Canada.
“It is the first thing they ask, do you have a skilled workforce. The second thing they ask is about violence in Mexico, especially with USMCA, that is going to be huge. That is one of the questions they always ask.”
Hopefully, Darling said, the state highway from Monterrey to McAllen, will be ratified as safe. He said he has been having discussions with Tamaulipas Governor Francisco Cabeza de Vaca about this.
Darling then asked how many people in the audience had visited McAllen’s industrial zone, next to Military Highway. He urged people to visit it.
“We have the mayor’s council and we went to it last year and they could not believe it. Over ten million square feet of logistics. That is pretty impressive, if you drive down and take a look at it. We can build on the relationship MEDC has made in Asia. In two or three years it is going to be fantastic.”
Darling added: It is an exciting time for us with economic development.”
Other speakers at the Citizens League luncheon included Keith Patridge, president of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and Jorge Sanchez, vice president of business development and startups for the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.