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Hernan Gonzalez, executive director of the Development Corporation of Mercedes, is interviewed about Mercedes' new marketing campaign involving large metallic cowboy boots in the colors of prestigious universities.

MERCEDES, RGV – As more and more professionals relocate to the Rio Grande Valley, local communities are going to have to place more emphasis on things like hike and bike trails, and amenities linked to art, music, and culture.

This is the view of Hernan Gonzalez, executive director of the Development Corporation of Mercedes. Gonzalez said his community will need to address the needs of incoming professionals because, for one thing, it will soon be getting a residency program specializing in family medicine that will be aligned with the UT-Rio Grande Valley’s new four-year medical school.

“One of the challenges for the Rio Grande Valley is to prepare for the new talent that is being recruited from across the country, whether it is for SpaceX, UT-Rio Grande Valley, the new medical school, or South Texas College, which is growing and recruiting talent,” Gonzalez said.

Hernan Gonzalez
Hernan Gonzalez

“The talent that is currently being recruited will raise the bar for the kind of amenities and communities we need to have. We need to be working on hike and bike trails, on the arts, on culture. This is an expectation for those coming in. If you are not preparing and working to do those kinds of things you are one of the communities in the Valley that is not going to do well,” Gonzalez predicted.

Gonzalez said he could not mention the name of the medical group that is bringing the family medicine residency program to Mercedes. However, he said the agreement would be signed very soon. He said it is going to be aligned to the UT-RGV School of Medicine.

“The medical school is going to have different residency programs for the education of the residents aiming to become doctors. One of the particular specialties is a residency in family medicine. That is the one we are working on having in Mercedes. We are very close to having all the agreements. Our agreement is with the medical center and the medical center has an agreement with UTRGV School of Medicine,” Gonzalez confirmed.

The challenge for Valley communities moving forward, Gonzalez said, is to prepare the local community for a new type of resident. “The new residents will have higher expectations than the local resident. If the only part of the world you are connected to is this one then some improvement is huge. If you are coming from around the country they say, ‘no, I need a different rhythm for our culture, more live music; more museums, etc.,” Gonzalez said.

“People say a rising tide helps all ships. It is not true. It does nothing for the ships with a hole in the bottom. You are still sunk. So, you have to prepare, clean up, fix up, and work so you can say, we are worthy of your investment. We are worthy of you being a resident in our community.”

Asked if Valley leaders were thinking of such quality of life issues ten or 20 years ago, Gonzalez said, no, not really.

“You had some select pockets but no community really prepared for this. They were pushed into it. Obviously, McAllen has a wide array of park systems and bike ways and stuff. They did it because they had to in order to be a community that could attract talent, attract new residents. Obviously, the bigger communities are ahead of the smaller communities in that regard but for the Valley as a region to move forward we need to do more of that.”

Gonzalez listed “some of the basics” that a community is going to have to do. “Are you perceived as a clean community? Is your trash being picked up on time? Do you control the dogs in the streets? Do you have parks? Do you have a walking trail? Is there is variety of leisure activities accessible to the new resident?”

Asked how far Mercedes has come in the quality of life stakes, Gonzalez said: “We have to work on it, we have to catch up. Obviously, if you drive up and down the Valley there are dilapidated buildings so we have to work on demolition and clean up or you are going to become known simply as a series of dilapidated buildings. We are trying to catch up. Some of the old buildings are going to be obsolete in the new economy. The old produce sheds; the old style gas stations that are now empty. We have to clean them up or demolish them. It is going to take a combination of public sector will to move on code enforcement and private sector understanding its importance. The landowner alone may not have the wherewithal to clean it up but it has to be done.”

Gonzalez said providing more quality of life amenities is not only a good thing to do, it is going to be an expectation. “You have to be doing these things if you if you want a future. For example, our historic former city hall, now almost 100 years old, and has to be preserved. The cowboy boots we are promoting will become even more significant once the building has been repurposed,” Gonzalez said. Asked how long this might take, Gonzalez said two and a half years. “Our historic city hall is the soul of the community. There is no other building like it in the community. You cannot have it empty. It was your seat of local government, your community hall, your first jail, your first everything, in the heart of the community.” Asked what the building will likely be used for, Gonzalez said: “It is probably going to be a meeting place, a place with good art, good history, a couple of offices and a facility for small meetings. The historic look will be the same. Restoring old buildings is not inexpensive but it has to be done. We only have one city hall. It can either prosper or die on the vine. If you are not tending to your history you do not have a future – that is my theory.”

One of the quality of life programs the Development Corporation of Mercedes is providing is called Little Nashville. It is held once a month. “We chose country music because, like jazz, it is international. It goes with the Boots and it goes with the branding of Mercedes as a cowboy capital. Little Nashville is a free event, very friendly. We have some artists that come display their art. It is catching on.”

Mercedes is benefiting already from its decision to erect large metallic cowboy boots around town to connect with the city’s history of boot making. Marketing experts say the city hit a home run when it then had the boots painted in the colors of prestigious universities. The day the Rio Grande Guardian interviewed Gonzalez was the day UT-Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey came to Mercedes to unveil the UTRGV boot.

“This is a very exciting time because we certainly feel we can position Mercedes and its location in this market to be viewed differently. Obviously having Dr. Bailey here this morning unveiling the boot… it is possibly the first public tribute to the new university in the Valley. To be part of a public sculpture, a public art tribute to colleges, in front of historic city hall, in front of the Notre Dame University boot speaks volumes to the opportunity and the challenge of the new university,” Gonzalez said.

“To be right in front of Notre Dame, with its long tradition, its long legacy as a leader in higher education… as Dr. Bailey said, that is our benchmark. For us it is both the history of Mercedes, a tribute to the future. We are especially honored to have Dr. Bailey here and his crew.”

Gonzalez added that he thought Bailey was being sincere when he said the new university is for all of the communities in the Valley. “Obviously, the main focal points are Brownsville, Edinburg, McAllen and Harlingen but the intent is to be viewed as the University for the Rio Grande Valley, not a specific location. I think that philosophy will carry over in terms of where the facilities are constructed, where the resources are deployed, in terms of a regional university having footprints up and down the Valley.”

Gonzalez said that at the core the cowboy boot project is an effort to brand Mercedes and get Mercedes noticed. “Having Dr. Bailey here and the story that that generates and the unveiling of this tribute to the new UTRGV gets us noticed. Once you get noticed, hopefully you get considered. Once you get considered hopefully you will get some commitments to locate in the center of the market. It gives you a reason to visit Mercedes. Dr. Bailey said as far as he knows there is no other tribute to colleges with this depth anywhere in the country. I do not know that there is any other tribute like this in Texas.”

A link between Mercedes, its cowboy boot marketing project and UTRGV that was not mentioned at President Bailey’s news conference was the fact that the new university’s mascot is the Vaquero. “It is unfolding a new chapter in Mercedes and there is a lot of excitement,” Gonzalez said.

An example of a company or entity choosing Mercedes because of its central location is VIDA, which is situated across the street from the old city hall. VIDA is a non-profit that helps adults return to the education arena to pursue a new career.

“We are ideally situated to serve the market. I think VIDA realized that. Their move here tells people in the region that Mercedes has a future. I think others could follow suit. I think the location, regardless of service or industry… if you are coming to serve the market this is not a bad choice. Our lifeline is Expressway 83, east to west and it works. We offer a central location, congestion free at less cost.”

Asked if there was anything else he would like to say for the feature, Gonzalez said: “We are very close to another major commercial development announcement so stay tuned.”