WESLACO, RGV – A tour of the Rio Grande Valley, stretching over three days, has just finished for five site selectors from Germany.

The selectors specialize in helping European manufacturing companies expand into North America and they were given their first tour of the Valley, comprising 21 different stops, by Rio South Texas Economic Council (RSTEC).

As well as seeing what the Valley has to offer, the tour allowed the site selectors to build relationships with Valley leaders in the sectors of international trade, economic development and higher education. According to Stefan Aengenheyster, director of European Affairs for the European American Investment Council (EAIC), the site selectors were suitably impressed.

“I do believe we will do everything in our capacity to help this region grow. I think this was a great first visit for me. Hopefully there will be more to come,” Aengenheyster said, in concluding remarks at a luncheon held at the offices of Pharr Economic Development Corporation.

“This really put the Valley on the map for us. We will make sure this will be put on the map for future corporations and businesses that plan to do business down here.”

Four Valley leaders were on the EAIC Familiarization Tour throughout. They were tour organizer Matt Ruszczak, executive director of RSTEC, Steve Tyndal, senior director of marketing and business development for the Port of Brownsville, Frank Almaraz, CEO of Workforce Solutions Rio Grande Valley, and Marie McDermott, executive director of Weslaco Economic Development Corporation.

Like Aengenheyster, McDermott thought the tour was highly productive.

“I thought the trip was awesome. The site selectors learned a lot about the Valley and we learned a lot about the Valley. The historical lessons we learned were very good, that means a lot to me culturally. It is amazing how much we have grown. With a little bit of input, it will grow exponentially. I think the visitors learned a lot about this area and what an opportunity it provides,“McDermott said.

The reason RSTEC chose to focus on European site selectors is that to a large extent it is an untapped market as far as inward investment is concerned. This was shown during a McAllen Economic Development Corporation presentation given by its vice president, Ralph Garcia, at Patio on Guerra in downtown McAllen. A slide in the presentation showed lots of companies from Japan and Korea investing in Rio South Texas but just a couple from Germany.

Day One of the tour, on Sunday, Feb. 25, included an overview of the program by Ruszczak at the Embassy Suites in McAllen, four powerpoint presentations at Texas Southmost College in Brownsville, a drive-by visit to the Port of Brownsville, a stop at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, a drive-by tour downtown Weslaco, and powerpoint presentations at Arturo’s in Weslaco.

Day Two, on Monday, Feb. 26, included visits to Anzalduas Park, the City of Palmview, Sullivan City and the Los Ebanos Ferry, Rio Grande City, including the Starr-Camargo International Bridge and a powerpoint presentation at Che’s, a stop at a warehouse in Alamo, a presentation at Pharr International Bridge, a drive-by of the foreign trade zone in McAllen, and a presentation by McAllen EDC at Patio on Guerra.

Day Three, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, included visits to see the FESTO lab at South Texas College’s technology campus in McAllen, a drive-by tour of the upscale Tres Lagos development in McAllen, a presentation and tour of the engineering department at UT-Rio Grande Valley, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce Creative Incubator, and a presentation at the offices of Pharr Economic Development Corporation.

After the tour had concluded, Aengenheyster and Sebastian Eich, managing director of NAVIGO Corporation, stayed on to take a tour of the maquila industrial parks in Reynosa. This was organized by McAllen EDC.

Keith Partridge, president and CEO of McAllen EDC, made the point that too many statistical analysis reports of the region fail to include important data from Reynosa and other cities on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.

“When you look across the United States at the communities with 150,000 manufacturing jobs, there are not that many. When you look at the manufacturing presence here, it is huge. The problem is, most of them are on the south side of town. When you come in, you look at the statistics and you say, the Valley does not have any manufacturing jobs at all. That is not true. We are an international city, it is just that the manufacturing is over there,“ Partridge told the site selectors, on a visit to STC’s technology campus.

“It is not much different than a city in Germany that has a river running through it. People go back and forth across the river all the time. With this SENTRI card, I can get across in five minutes, faster than you can get through traffic in most big cities. Because you have two countries involved, the U.S. does not measure what is in Mexico. And Mexico does not measure what is in the U.S. And so we are sitting here like we are two islands, separated. But, we are actually one.“

Partridge added: “We are really a city of two million people with roughly 150,000 manufacturing jobs. All of a sudden we are a big manufacturing area. But, no one looks at it that way.“

In his concluding remarks, made at the offices of Pharr EDC, Ruszczak thanked the board of directors of RSTEC for having faith that a very busy itinerary could be accomplished. He also thanked Aengenheyster and the European American Investment Council for their support of the program.

“The core message I would like everyone to walk away with from this trip is that this is a region full of people who are making a very positive impact on their own communities and their neighboring communities,” Ruszczak said.

“And that we are all able to look past city limit lines, past county lines, past international borders, and past organizational structures, to sit down at the table and work together as family in order to improve the quality of life and the opportunities of the people in this region.”

Ruszczak noted that many people from other parts of the world had made the Valley home.

“As (Valley Business Report publisher) Todd Breland said, how welcoming and embracing this community is. I hope you (site selectors) felt welcome and embraced by this community. We also hope that at some point in time in the future some of your clients will come here so they can be welcomed and embraced by this community.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first of six stories about the EAIC Familiarization Tour. Part Two will be posted later this week.