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WESLACO, RGV – Later this year, the Rio Grande Valley will have a new entity to foster and promote international trade and prosperity.

The Center for International Economic Development Opportunities, which opens on July 27, will be based in Weslaco and administered by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

Initial funding for the program is coming from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

Ron Garza
Ron Garza

“Phase 1 of the program is to open the new facility, which will give us more space and more resources for things like mapping and logistics,” said Ron Garza, the LRGVDC’s deputy executive director. “Phase 2 will be doing the analysis to see where the gaps are and where we can implement some services to address those gaps and opportunities for international economic development.”

Garza announced the date of the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the CIEDO building at last week’s LRGVDC board meeting. He said July 27 would be a big day because it would also be the first day the board of directors meet at the COG’s refurbished boardroom in Weslaco. For the past couple of years, the board has been meeting at the LRGVDC Transit Center in Weslaco.

Also part of the July 27 festivities, Garza said, would be an overview of the LRGVDC’s regional strategic plan. The regional strategic plan covers a five-year period and gets updated every two years, in advance of a state legislative session.

“For the first time, we will be gathering input from international stakeholders as part of our regional strategic plan process. We see the Valley as one international economic development area. We want to capitalize on that. It is exciting because there is a lots of activity and momentum in the Valley.”

Garza said he, LRGVDC Executive Director Ken Jones, and LRGVDC Economic Development Director Terrie Salinas, have been attending as many economic development events as possible in recent weeks to get up to speed on activities and projects happening around the Valley.

“Initially with CIEDO, we will not be going full steam ahead. We are going to sit back and do a lot of research. We have been trying to sit in and participate in any venue, to get more awareness of the activities and so that we can help bring them all together,” Garza said.

“We want to partner with groups like Rio South Texas Economic Council and the EDCs in individual cities, first of all to have a period of research and then to have an assessment to see where they are at in exploring international opportunities. To see if we can help leverage the projects. When we do this assessment, we do not want to replicate what has already been done. I would say for the first year or so there will be a lot of research.”

For the CIEDO to operate at full capacity more staff will likely be needed at the LRGVDC, Garza said. “We need to build a bigger team for the economic development division. Currently, it is basically a one-person operation, Terri Salinas. But, all of our programs filter through economic development. We are going to see how we can share our own resources, such as mapping, we have great mapping resources. And then reach out to some of the city EDCs.”

One of the events Garza recently attended was a retail shopping conference held at TSTC in Harlingen. The event was co-hosted by Rio South Texas Economic Council and the International Council of Shopping Centers and was titled ‘ICSC Texas Alliance P3 Retail Program.’ Garza said he was impressed with the information disseminated at the event.

“The statistics from the Port of Brownsville were overwhelming. We really do have every resource we need already. We just need to leverage them and partner and start identifying what opportunities are we going to prioritize first, second, third, etc., rather than spread ourselves too thin. The council of government is the designated economic development district. It is part of our responsibility to be the facilitator of the activity. We are going try to be more visible.”

One of the ways the LRGVDC is going to be more visible is by improving its use of social media. At the LRGVDC board meeting Garza unveiled the COG’s new Twitter handle, @lrgvdc_COG. The hashtag Garza recommended board members use is #visionvalley. Manuel Cruz, director of homeland security for the LRGVDC was the first person to officially put out a tweet for the agency. “Twitter is a great venue to creating buzz,” Garza told LRGVDC board members. “It is a medium for real time and quick feedback.”

At the board meeting, Garza also laid out the timetable for updating the LRGVDC’s regional strategic plan. He said that over the course of the next two months, different departments within the COG would start holding workshops with stakeholder groups. Then, on May 19, all the program directors would make themselves available all day to receive final input from the general public.

“The intent is from here until May 19 is to gather as much information and data as we can and on May 19 we will have a high level review of the program and where we are at,” Garza told the LRGVDC board of directors.

Then, on July 27, as part of the CIEDO ribbon-cutting festivities, there would be an overview of the regional strategic plan. The ribbon-cutting is slated to start at 9 a.m. and the overview of the plan is due to take place at 10 a.m. “Each director will be behind a booth and the public and community stakeholders can visit with the different program directors,” Garza told LRGVDC board members.

“The regional strategic plan is a very critical process and it really digs deep into the value and mission of COGs. We want to take it very seriously and be as deliberative as we can and get the word out and get a positive message out there. The value of this document is in soliciting as much input as we can and making sure we build a wealth of information,” Garza told the LRGVDC’s board of directors.