BROWNSVILLE, RGV – The executive director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation has been asked to speak at the 6th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border Conference that takes place in Washington, D.C., today.

Mario Lozoya is in distinguished company. Other speakers at the event include Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Martha Bárcena, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, and and U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar and Will Hurd.

Rio Grande Valley leaders met with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Photo: Mario Lozoya, executive director of GBIC).

The all-day event is being hosted by the Mexico Institute, which is part of the Wilson Center. The address of the Wilson Center is Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.

“I am in Washington, D.C., for several things. One of these is the 6th Annual Building a Competitive U.S.-Mexico Border Conference, ” Lozoya told the Rio Grande Guardian by telephone from Washington, D.C.

Mario Lozoya

“You will recall that the Wilson Center, University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley and Ambiotec were contracted through an EDA (U.S. Economic Development Administration) grant to create some data related to a Bi-National Economic Development condition. From the BiNED document came some suggestions on how to move forward in the border region to capitalize on potential economic development opportunities. Since then we have used the finding of the Wilson Center document to use it as a strategy to improve the border region.”

Lozoya said the BiNED project will be the kickoff point for a panel discussion at the conference. The panel discussion is titled: From Risk to Asset: Economic Development in the U.S.-Mexico Border Region. Other speakers on the panel are Jon Barela, CEO of The Borderplex Alliance, and Federico Schaffler, director of the Texas Center for Border Economic Enterprise Development at Texas A&M International University. The moderator is Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute.

“My hope is that I can present the condition of Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley and then it will prompt the Wilson Center to start a conversation among the panelists on why we are still in that condition and what are we doing about it; what do we do to move forward,” Lozoya said. 

“Although we have a lot of investment in the border region, specifically at the points of entry, that investment has not been reflective of the people and the community. It is still a poor community. The three poorest communities in the country are Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville. We are still in that condition.”

Lozoya said the last data he looked at showed the per capita income in Brownsville hovering at $15,000 a year. 

“We have not improved very much. So, I am going to explain tomorrow we are still in that condition. However, we have established a process. As you know, we got an award for our ‘We Grow Our Own’ workforce strategy. So, we are doing a lot of things that I think are going to create some movement towards the right direction, based on the BiNED document that was put out last year.”

Rio Grande Valley leaders met with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. (Photo: Mario Lozoya, executive director of GBIC).

Lozoya said part of the conversation would be the chronic digital divide along the border. “I am going to include the continued condition of the digital divide, in my bullet points. I am not going to let that go,” he said.

Opportunity Zones

Another reason Lozoya is in Washington, D.C., is to meet with officials in the Department of Treasury and the Department of Commerce to talk about Opportunity Zones.

“What can we do to be more effective with the assigned Opportunity Zones, specifically in the Rio Grande Valley?” Lozoya asked. 

“One year ago, Opportunity Zones were designated based on Census tracts,” Lozoya explained. “The zones identify poverty levels and where investment is needed for economic prosperity. The thinking was, if an Opportunity Zone was established and people invest in an Opportunity Zone, they get tax relief. They can use that tax relief in such a way as to invest more.”

Lozoya said leaders in border communities are interested in having in Opportunity Zones as a way of securing more investment.

“However, some of them in our area are not developed. Although it may be a poor part of the community there isn’t any infrastructure. Maybe it is a flood plain where we cannot build. In the case of Brownsville, one of the Opportunity Zones overlaps the (Palo Alto) battlefield. That is a protected area. You cannot build there. We are asking, how can we adjust some of these Opportunity Zone designations to be more effective for our community.”

Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center

Another reason for visiting Washington, D.C., Lozoya said is to attend a board meeting of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. Lozoya is a board member and chairs the group’s governance committee.

Lozoya is also in Washington to talk to the department that funds Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center.

“I am here to discuss how we can be a little bit more effective in the application of the TMAC partnership in Texas. Hopefully we can include workforce development in this scope of work,” Lozoya said.

“All of this is aligned to the work we are doing in economic development in the Rio Grande Valley. To send the message that we are here to work as a region not as a community of silos. I am here to tell the message of what is happening in the border region from an economic development perspective.”

Thus far, Lozoya said, the meetings he has been involved in have been very positive.

“Everybody here has been very supportive, because, in the end, as a country and as a binational U.S.-Mexico region, we want to work together to improve the conditions of the border region specific to the Rio Grande Valley. If not, the overall intention of NAFTA 2, USMCA, is not going to be met,” Lozoya said.

“We are dealing with a region that needs to be supported by federal and state resources because of its poor condition. So, my message is, let us help you from a cost-savings perspective. Improve this community so we can treat these conditions and move forward.”

Lozoya said everybody he has met has been very receptive to this point. “We are looking forward to continued collaboration with not only the federal government, the state government, and our local municipalities.”

Coincidentally, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership’s annual RGV to D.C. trip is happening in Washington. Lozoya said he was very pleased to see some of the smaller communities represented on the trip, such as Edcouch and Donna.

“I was at a dinner last night and I was very impressed with the representation of the RGV delegation. The Rio Grande Valley should be proud of the fact that they have these kind of leaders that are interested in being pro-active, in taking advantage of these kind of gatherings in Washington, D.C., and represent the Valley as a region. It was very refreshing for me to see that.”