MCALLEN, Texas – On the campaign trail and at forums, McAllen mayoral candidate Michael Fallek has spoken a lot about the need to bring major investment into his city.
However, in an exclusive, in-depth interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, the McAllen businessman said he also plans to focus on the small business owner and the mom ’n pop shops for which his city is famous.
“The mom ’n pop stores are very important to McAllen. As a government we have to figure out how to promote those businesses. How to make working in McAllen and running a business in McAllen easier,” Fallek said.
Fallek said he has heard complaints that the city’s rules and regulations are too cumbersome.
“If there are regulations in place that are causing pain we need to focus on that. We need to make sure that whatever regulation is there, it is finely tuned to only what is actually necessary and not setting up road blocks, to allow business owners to make a profit.”
Fallek said he is concerned the city has moved away from common sense solutions.
“Because small businesses are driving so much of our economy we do need to make sure that… we need to focus on these big picture companies and jobs and development but we cannot lose our focus on our local small business community as well.”
Fallek believes the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan can help. The City of McAllen is slated to get around $42-plus million of this.
“The American Rescue Plan is a once-in-a-generation opportunity that we have going for us. The cause is horrible, COVID. This is the reason the rescue plan was passed by Congress. But, we have got an enormous opportunity here.”
Fallek said it is “absolutely vital” the City of McAllen spends the federal funds on a “meaningful, efficient, and competent plan.”
The mayoral candidate said: “We have $212 million coming into the county, we have $42-plus million coming into the city. The McAllen ISD has close to $100 million coming in. Other communities around us each have their own pot of money coming in. We need to realize how to best utilize those funds. We need to promote small business.”
Businesses big and small will benefit if McAllen gets its infrastructure investment right, Fallek argued.
“We need to set infrastructure in place so we can continue to grow. If there are broadband connectivity issues, we need to address them. We need to make sure if rental assistance is needed there is a component of that in our plan. There is $42 million that the city is going to have to spend in this next year. We need to ensure it is used to greatest effect.”
Again stressing the importance of small businesses, Fallek said: “We can look at big picture items but we need to get into the details of those monies to make sure our local citizens, our local businesses are cared for and that they realize the city has their back.”
As for attracting big businesses and improving the quality of the city’s workforce, Fallek said: “One of the items I have continued to hammer in the forums and in my conversations is we have to continue building job opportunities here in town. You have heard me in the forums hammer the point that McAllen for as long as we can remember is so far behind the rest of the state and the nation in terms of per capita income. That is one we have to continue building on but there is really no reason for that.”
Fallek pointed out McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley is blessed to have a young, bilingual workforce that other parts of the state and the nation envy. “Our young, bilingual workforce should be empowered and should be a real driver and an opportunity for employers to come in here,” he said.
Fallek believes McAllen and the Valley is going to benefit from aspects of USMCA that were not in its predecessor, NAFTA.
“USMCA is going to demand that a certain percentage of vehicles and other products are built with components from the United States. Just-in-Time delivery also means local is better,” Fallek said.
“We have the ability to build things here and to set up logistics in a lower cost environment. We have that opportunity right here, not just because of a pure cost component but because of our location on the border. We should be the location where companies want to locate because they can send products through to the entire central U.S., and get stuff into Central and South America, right from here and from our sea port in Brownsville.”
Fallek said access to the Mexican maquiladora plants is also crucial. He said the Fortune 500 companies that manufacture in Reynosa and Matamoros should be contacted to see about having a presence in McAllen and the Valley.
“We have got to figure out how to incentivize those corporations to actually locate here and to create those jobs and to increase our per capita income.”
To attract such corporations, the City of McAllen will have to develop even stronger alliances with local educational institutions, the mayoral candidate argued.
“We have to figure out how to better align and build coalitions with the McAllen school district, which does a great job. There are additional synergies that can be established. We have got to figure out how to build those see synergies with STC, which has driven such educational opportunities here in town, and continue expanding UTRGV. They are doing a tremendous job for the young population here in town. But, you have got to tie all that in together to make this workforce really attractive to the companies that want to locate here. We have got to continue to build programs through those educational components that make the workforce suitable and suited to those various industries.”
A reporter said Fallek’s remarks reminded him of a webinar held late last year by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. Gov. Greg Abbott was the special guest. In his remarks, Abbott said the Valley was proving fertile ground for corporations outside of the region that were looking to recruit talented, bilingual workers.
Told about this, Fallek said: “The brain drain is a huge problem because so many people, once they leave, they don’t come back. But the key is not only to build the infrastructure, to make sure the educational component is right, but also to set a pro-business environment so companies want to locate here, so there are not only entry level jobs but jobs that lead to full careers, where young people can start but also have the opportunity to advance through companies.”
Fallek added: “We have got to make that environment here in town so attractive to companies that they are not just pulling people out and sending them to wherever those companies are already located. We want those companies to locate outposts here in town and have McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley be an important part of their entire chain of business. So, absolutely, we have got to build the infrastructure, we have got to bring the jobs in and then it is just a loop that just feeds on itself.”
Asked to elaborate on his thoughts about the heavy presence of Fortune 500 companies just across the Rio Grande and how they can do more on the U.S. side of the border, Fallek said:
“They need to build significant facilities here. They need to put significant investments into the area, to actually throw an anchor here in the ground, where we know that they are making a real investment in time and money and they are going to be here. That they are going to be a good, corporate citizen in McAllen. That they are going to invest in the community. That they are going to invest in the educational system, promote the various charitable causes here in town and do so not just because it is upper echelon and pie in the sky but because it means that their business is going to be better. That it is mutually beneficial for them to be investing in the community not just for the goodwill but because it is going to serve their corporate interest, at the same time that it serves our civic interests.”
Fallek said one area where McAllen and the Valley have not always received its fair share of funding is the State of Texas’ enterprise fund. The fund, operated by the Governor’s Office, is used to attract new business into the state.
“Often times those state enterprise funds are being directed to companies that have their own plans and they may be going to other cities, which is fine and the state enterprise funds should be used for that. But we need to be able to create plans to bring companies down here, to attract those state enterprise funds to get companies located here in McAllen and the RGV. We need to get our share of those state enterprise funds, to get companies actually here in town.”
Asked which issues he is hearing most about from voters, Fallek mentioned drainage and mobility.
“The citizens a few years ago passed bonds on both of those items and most of those items are complete or nearing completion. So there is some benefit that is yet to be seen, especially from the mobility issues.”
Fallek said the synchronization of street lights is something of concern to voters. He said he understands city leaders are working on it.
“It can take a long time to get from north to south or reverse. That is going to be built out and completed shortly but it is probably the case that we need to continue to focus on that. I said before on some other forums that the city needs to focus on east-west thoroughfares. We have built out north-south thoroughfares, I think, fairly successfully, and there was a recent opening for a new segment on Bicentennial, going north past Trenton, which is wonderful, all the way to 107 later this year,” Fallek said.
“There has not been a focus on east-west thoroughfares. Nolana is one but it is super congested. Trenton is one but it is super congested. We have an opportunity, perhaps with Monte Cristo, to make that a focal point for east-west travel on the north side of town because it is so important to get from the west side of the city all the way to 281, to the new I-69. It is taking way too long to move people and traffic from east to west and west to east. That is a continual focus the city needs to have.”
Fallek completed his interview by discussing the need for regional collaboration.
“McAllen should always be the center of the Rio Grande Valley in terms of leadership. It is where the majority of the population is, it is where the majority of the business is, it is where the majority of the property values and sales taxes are generated. We need to be leading and we need to make sure that we are involved in every conversation that has a regional component.”
Fallek said “hats off” to those involved in the creation of the RGV Metropolitan Planning Organization, which is the conduit through which state and federal transportation dollars are distributed.
“The RGV MPO is going to mean hundreds of millions, if not billions of additional dollars coming here to our region and McAllen needs to have a good say in how the MPO is functioning. But the synergy of operating with McAllen and Mission and Pharr and Edinburg and then into Cameron County with Harlingen and Brownsville and even now with Starr County joining the MPO, it is a tremendous opportunity to bring additional dollars, additional investment and real problem-solving to the area for the benefit of our citizens. Mobility is key.”
Asked for a wrap-up remark, Fallek said: “We have so much opportunity here. We are on the front side of really all of the possibilities here. We are just getting our fare share of the investment dollars, of the state dollars, of the federal dollars and we need to make sure that continues. Harkening back to the educational component and the focus on infrastructure, we have made so much progress but it should pale in comparison to what we can do over the next decade or two.”
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