WESLACO, RGV – Ron Garza says the secret to the success of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council is how its leadership over the years has given up power to achieve more.
Elected officials, regional leaders and stakeholders attended the 50th anniversary of the organization on Wednesday to celebrate five decades of economic development in the Valley.
The LRGVDC formally opened their doors on Aug. 2, 1967, after merging the Lower Rio Grande Valley Council of Governments and the Texas Southmost Economic Development District, along with state and federal approval, to plan and develop the region.
The LRGVDC is the official Council of Government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.
Garza, the executive director of the LRGVDC, said the founding leaders of the LRGVDC merged with other council of governments and organizations, giving up power, for a “greater purpose.”
“For me personally, it’s a historic day,” Garza said. “Because I am the executive director of this great organization, but just to look back, I’m very impressed with how the start of the organization came from leaders that realized that to give up power, you get more power. And that’s amazing because you could look through the archives of many of our programs and that kept coming up over and over and over. If we join, if we lose a few seats here and there or somebody steps down, there’s a greater purpose and that’s how you get the longevity.”
In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Garza said partnerships and negotiation has been the catalyst for the organization’s success.
“We looked at a historical perspective of what the COG is today and how we got here and I think that was really informative, but really it was about partnerships,” Garza said.
“That was the common thread how you know every good project from not just our board of directors, our past presidents, our staff members and executive directors, how they have just negotiated so many times. We could look at those win-win situations that were put together.”
Garza emphasized that unity and early mergers of other council of governments created the organization that exists today.
“We’re what’s called an economic development district and we are the local field partners for EDA, which provides so many tremendous grants. So, what we did was, our forefathers, so to speak, they early on realized we could do more together, we could do more if we’re unified,” the executive director said. “So the LRGVDC is actually an incarnation of four different agencies that have merged, and August 2, 1967 formalized what we are today, the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.”
At the celebration, historical photos of the organization showed how much the LRGVDC has grown, and how economic development in the region has been the main focus. Garza said the organization’s budget when it first began was “minimal” and only a “couple hundred thousand dollars,” but now after five decades of growth, their budget has grown close to $50 million.
“You start seeing the photos. You start seeing how we grew, the ribbon cuttings from the 60s and 70s of some of these programs,” Garza said. “Its amazing that the common thread for programmatic output has always been economic development. From aligning our public transportation to the workforce, and we’re still doing that today. It’s just amazing. Even things that you don’t traditionally think – like 911 services or criminal justice, homeland security, – it’s still economic development that is the foundation of what we are.”
Garza said the LRGVDC began with an eight-member staff team and were able to form committees and projects that are still present today. Now the organization has 160 employees.
“So, in 1967 when we were formalized on August 2, we started with actually one staff member but seven additional were approved and those initial eight staff members, what they did, they formulated four committees,” Garza said. “Police Academy Committee, communications around emergency management and the other two were economic development. Again, being our foundation, a lot of the early projects of the 60s and into the 70s were economic development focused.”
Even after 50 years, Garza said the structure of the organization hasn’t changed, and praised the founding leaders for their vision of economic development in the region.
“What’s really nice, even through the growth, if you look back at our bylaws the structure of how our organization was built, its very much the same,” Garza said. “There’s not much that’s been changed with that so that really does impress me to say that those early visionary leaders, gosh they got it so right, 50 years later it stands.”
Although outcomes from economic development projects are important, Garza argues discussion and planning is the key to improve the community.
“Of course, outcomes are essential, but really that’s where we play again as a designated regional planning commission, it’s the process of planning using the correct facts, using all our partners and making sure they have a voice around the table, but then the outcome is part of the process,” Garza said. “You can’t just say, yes we’re going to have a light rail, we may never have a light rail, but I can guarantee because of those discussions we’re going to have a better public transportation system, we’re going to have better panning, we’re going to have better coordination, and that’s at the end of the day, that’s really what’s more important.”
Garza said he was deeply honored to be only the third executive director of the LRGVDC, and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the council.
“First of all, the honor of being just the third executive director in 50 years is just astounding, so I couldn’t be more proud to,” Garza said. “That’s why just personally looking back at the historical perspective I mean following those two great leaders is just astounding.”
The first two executive directors of the LRGVDC were Robert A. Chandler and Ken Jones.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series on the 50th Anniversary of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council.