EDINBURG, RGV – The City of Edinburg is already reaping the benefits from a future medical school before it even opens, according to city leaders.

From record numbers of building permits to fielding questions from interested parties regarding development in the city, a transformation is not so quietly taking place that will launch Edinburg into a new era of growth, according to city manager Ramiro Garza.

Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza.
Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza.

“With the new medical school opening, it has become a destination type of marketing opportunity not only for us but for the region,” Garza said. “We just see that as the additional benefit because we already know the benefits it brings to us by just having a medical school here.”

The UT Board of Regents has appropriated $196 million for construction, including $54 million for an academic building for the future UT-RGV medical school.
As part of a Memorandum of Understanding signed by all the major cities in the Rio Grande Valley with the University of Texas System, Edinburg has pledged $1 million over the next 10 years to support the new medical school, which is slated to open its doors in 2016.

“I think in our case we saw it as an economic development project, for us and for everyone in the Valley,” said Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza. “We see the benefit that the medical schools have had in other areas of the country, we know that the impact it will have in our region, may be even more.

“We are going to be able to not only train doctors and bring other opportunities associated with the medical school from research, but also the residencies that are here, and the companies that will support those activities. We have already seen some spinoff from that,” Garza said.

From retailers to restaurants and residential developments which increase the city’s tax base, Garza says major activity is happening just from the fact that the medical school is coming.

Declining to mention which specific entities are interested in the city, for its part, Garza says the city is meanwhile planning “long range” by investing in its infrastructure. The city is starting its construction on a new water treatment facility, and is also aggressively pursuing opportunities to expand roadways that are going to be key thoroughfares for access from the university to the various locations in the community.

The city is working with the county to expand 10th Street, a major corridor in McAllen, to Monte Christo in northern Edinburg. Right now 10th Street ends at Highway 107.

The city is also looking to expand Owassa Road, and has begun a partnership with the City of Pharr, and Hidalgo County Precinct 4 and Precinct 2 to expand Owassa on the west side of 281 that connects all the way to McAllen to Dove Road in the area where Edinburg Regional and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance are located.

Cities have taken a lesson from other communities and realized that a medical school is not completely funded by public dollars, it’s also funded through private dollars, Garza said.

“We already see the payoffs,” Garza said. “What we are doing and what others are doing is investing in the medical school because it is going to have a transformational effect on our economy in the Valley.

“We are doing these things to make sure we are preparing for the future. We don’t see any slowdown at this point in time in terms of activity.”

Edinburg’s unemployment rate for December 2014 was 4.8 percent, the best showing for the city in almost seven years, according to the Edinburg EDC.

Not since January 2008 has the city’s economy registered such a strong figure in the jobs market, according to EDC executive director Agustin “Gus” Garcia.

Edinburg’s annual unemployment rates since 2005, which is the year in which the state government began preparing those figures using a more accurate formula, have registered as follows: 2014 (6.15 percent); 2013 (7.3 percent); 2012 (7.8 percent); 2011 (8.9 percent); 2010 (8.4 percent); 2009 (6.8 percent); 2008 (5.0 percent); 2007 (4.8 percent); 2006 (5.3 percent); and 2005 (4.9 percent).

In deep South Texas, only McAllen registered a slightly better December 2014 monthly unemployment figure than Edinburg, coming in at 4.6 percent.

The statewide unemployment average in Texas for December 2014 was 4.6 percent, while the U.S. unemployment rate for that month was 5.6 percent.

“From the EDC side, even though we concentrate on commercial and industrial and job creation, housing is a big part of it too because those people obviously are going to bring more rooftops and more discretionary spending,” Garcia said in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian. “They may work in another city, but will live in our city. There is going to more interest on the retail side, so that’s something our community needs. We need more restaurants. The restaurant and retail industry, they know that with the housing is going to come interest so a lot of that is happening as well.”

New construction of commercial facilities in December 2014 in Edinburg totaled $2,070,400 in value, compared with $723,833 in new business structures the previous December, according to the city’s Code Enforcement department.

In 2014, the city authorized the construction of new business facilities valued at $35,803,795, compared with $39,471,002 during 2013, according to Code Enforcement.

“I think most of the active projects that are taking place, from residential to commercial, there is not a meeting that takes place without the medical school coming up in terms of when is it going to open and what does that mean for the region,” City manager Garza said. “They are looking to see how they can capitalize on the medical school being in the area because people know what it has done to San Antonio.”