WESLACO, RGV – The Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Valley’s regional chamber of Commerce, has commissioned UT-Rio Grande Valley to conduct an economic impact study on the healthcare industry of the four-county area.

Local hospitals will help pay for the study, along, possibly, with the Texas Workforce Commission. A meeting was held at Arturo’s Restaurant in Weslaco on Thursday to discuss the project.

Sergio Contreras

Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of the RGV Partnership, said he expects the study to show healthcare in the Valley is a huge industry, one that generates thousands of high paying jobs.

“We were fortunate to host a meeting with all the hospitals, all the higher education institutions from vocational schools to colleges to universities, to talk about the importance of the healthcare industry when it comes to the economic impact of our region,” Contreras said.

“It is an industry that has higher paying jobs and it is an industry that is a driving force for our economy. So, we want to identify how we can continue to support this industry.” 

Hospitals represented at the meeting included Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Prime Health Care, South Texas Health System, Valley Baptist Brownsville, Valley Baptist Harlingen, Rio Grande Regional.

Colleges and universities represented at the meeting included Our Lady of the Lake, South Texas College, TSTC Harlingen, UT-Rio Grande Valley, Texas A&M, and Texas Southmost College.

Other entities represented included Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Workforce Commission, Cameron Workforce Solutions, Hidalgo Workforce Solutions, Rodeo Dental, Willacy County, Valley Grande Institute, Office of state Rep. Armando Martinez, Office of state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, Texas Gas Service, Atlas Hall & Rodriguez, LLP.

Among the suggested questions for the study are: 

  • What are your current healthcare workforce needs, currently and in five years?
  • How can the Texas Workforce Commission help you in this regard?
  • Are you engaged in workforce strategies that you may share with the group?
  • How can we fill the gaps in occupations in demand?
  • Are you partnering with high schools and community colleges to fill those needs?

Contreras said he noticed there was not an economic impact study on the size and importance of the healthcare industry in the Valley when he was working on the RGVP’s economic snapshot publication.

“We were working on our economic snapshot and I could not find any data. While researching the issued I discovered San Antonio has done an economic impact study on its healthcare industry and statistics are fascinating.”

Sponsors of the San Antonio economic impact study included the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, San Antonio Medical Foundation and University Health System.

The study found Healthcare and Bioscience to be one of San Antonio’s largest industries. Its economic impact in 2017 was $30.6 billion measured conservatively, and $40.2 billion by a more comprehensive estimate.

By the more comprehensive estimate, the industry paid $9.8 billion in wages and salaries to 182,112 employees in 2017, the study found. More than one in every six San Antonio employees works in the Healthcare and Bioscience Industry.

Contreras said that while the healthcare industry in the Valley is not as big as it is in San Antonio, it is just as impactful. 

“On bio-science, UTRGV challenged us. They said, we need to have a regional plan on bio-science opportunities. Those are some of the next steps. There is funding there, there are opportunities,” Contreras said. 

Contreras said UTRGV will likely complete the study in two months. He said that once the study is known, the RGVP will reach out to Valley school districts and economic development corporations to see how they can help the develop a skilled workforce for the healthcare industry.

“This is all about having an educated workforce in the healthcare industry. The Texas Workforce Commission has resources to help train the workers we need. Our next step is to engage the school districts and the EDCs. We need their input because this is a collaborative effort.”

Robert Thomas

Robert Thomas is the public representative on the Texas Workforce Commission. At the conclusion of the meeting, he told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88FM:

“This was a healthcare summit to bring healthcare industry leaders, higher education professionals, community college professionals, to talk about the shortage and deficit of healthcare workers and what we can be doing together to facilitate and help the Rio Grande Valley increase its healthcare workforce.”

Asked if he was surprised by the size of the turnout for the meeting, Thomas said: “No, this is the Valley. The Valley is amazing. Anytime we come to the Valley to ask for support and guidance there is a great turnout. You guys know how to get together to make something happen. This is a perfect example of that.”

Thomas added: “We challenged the healthcare industry today to come up with ideas so we can help them. We will be coming down often to work with the local communities to develop programs to support the development of healthcare workers.”

Sofia Hernandez is chief of staff for UTRGV’s Office of Health Affairs and the School of Medicine. She said: “Healthcare is a prominent industry in the RGV. The UTRGV School of Medicine is contributing to its growth and creating opportunities for a biosciences sector to develop across the region. This study will help quantify and promote the growth and economic opportunities in these sectors.”

During the meeting, Dr. Adolfo Santos, assistant provost at Texas A&M University’s higher education center in McAllen, noted the challenges the Valley faces in getting to the national average for personal income.

Adolfo Santos

“A couple of months ago I started playing around with some of the data to get a sense of what it is going to take to get us to the national average in terms of income levels in the Rio Grande Valley,” Santos said.

“There is a pretty strong correlation between it and college level completion rates. So, I looked at the college completion rate. There have been some improvements in the Rio Grande Valley in the last couple of years. 

“I said, let us stretch this out to see at what point we reach those national averages and it looked like about 30 years. This is when we would have about a third of the population of the Valley with college completion and to have the same average income levels. That seemed to me to be a real long time. But, thanks to organizations here and activities like this, we are going to get there a lot, lot quicker.”

Santos noted that Texas A&M is offering five degree programs in McAllen, two in engineering, two in healthcare and one in agriculture. “We would like to see mentoring for our students. We need partnerships help our students hold on to their passion.”

Editor’s Note: Here is the agenda for the meeting at Arturo’s: