MERCEDES, RGV – The board of directors for the Development Corporation of Mercedes has named Melissa D. Ramirez as interim executive director.

A vacancy arose when executive director Hernan Gonzalez recently announced he was stepping down after four years in charge.

“I am excited for the challenge,” Ramirez told the Rio Grande Guardian, in her first interview since taking over the helm of the Queen City’s economic development arm.

Melissa D. Ramirez

Ramirez is a native of Edinburg, Texas. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in international business from UT-Pan American, a Master’s degree in non-profit government management from Our Lady of the Lake University, and an MBA from the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Ramirez has been in the economic development arena for the past nine years. For the last six years, she has been business retention and expansion director for the Development Corporation of Mercedes.

Gonzalez helped put Mercedes on the map by placing large metallic boots around town, in the colors of various universities and colleges. The boots are seen as symbolic of Mercedes’ history. It is home to a number of famous cowboy boot makers.

Ramirez acknowledged that in replacing Gonzalez she has big boots to fill.

“Hernan has been a wonderful mentor. He has taught me a lot. I have met a lot of his contacts. He has taught me this is about relationship-building and marketing and enhancing the community,” Ramirez said.

Asked what direction she might take Mercedes, Ramirez said: “I want to build on what Hernan has been doing. He has set a wonderful foundation and I want to build on that, to continue to market the Mid-Valley.”

Mercedes has suffered from a decline in Mexican shoppers this year. It relies heavily on the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets for its sales tax revenues. They are down 12.27 percent year to date – Nov. 2016 to May 2017.

Asked about her ideas for turning this around, Ramirez said: “We have to continue to work on that and let Mexican nationals know the U.S. and the Valley is welcoming, that this is a safe place to be, and that we welcome them with open arms.”

Ramirez said Mercedes will continue with its marketing campaign in Mexico.

Asked if she wanted to make any other comments, Ramirez said: “I am ready for anything that comes my way. I have wanted this opportunity. I have great partners in the City of Mercedes and my board. Hernan will continue to be my mentor. I am excited for Mercedes and I am excited for myself.”

Gonzalez has no plans to retire

Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna had a one-hour conversation with Hernan Gonzalez as part of its RGG LIVE series on Facebook. It was held on Thursday, his last day as executive director of the Development Corporation of Mercedes.

A local newspaper recently reported Gonzalez was retiring to spend more time with his grandchildren. However, in the RGG LIVE conversation, he said he was open to offers for more work in economic development.

“Never did I say I was going to retire. If there is an economic development agency out there that is looking for a director that can turn things around, I am your man,” Gonzalez said.

Asked if he might go into consulting, Gonzalez said: “Right now, anything is possible.”

Asked what attributes a good economic development leader needs, Gonzalez said: “Part diplomat, part politician, and you have to have a thick skin.”

Hanna asked Gonzalez about the decline in sales tax revenues Mercedes was currently experiencing. A number of explanations have been given for the drop off in Mexican visitors to the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, including a weakening in the value of the Peso, violence in Reynosa, and disparaging remarks about Mexico by President Trump.

Gonzalez said Simon Properties has sold some of its properties of late, including facilities in Harlingen. The group had not, tellingly, sold Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, Gonzalez pointed out.

“Fluctuations in the value of the Peso is not new. The thing with the oil industry is a new wrinkle, in terms of the available cash. What has been the real sore point has been the violence in Reynosa. It is hard for us to address that. We have to adapt to the available cash and be more strategic on how we use it. Will it come back? Yes,” Gonzalez said.

“Unfortunately, there is a Trump Effect. Words do matter. At the end of the day, an investor, a developer, is driven also by emotion.”

Gonzalez said he firmly believes in the Rio Grande Valley and that its economic fortunes will rebound.

“The Valley is still growing, it is still going to be attractive market, not for all investors because it is still a frontier. Everybody wants to go to a sure thing. No one wants to be the pioneer. The one who is probably gets rewarded the best. My advice is stay focused and do what you know how to do,” Gonzalez said.