WESLACO, RGV – The Lower Rio Grande Development Council, the official council of government for Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties, has secured a grant to market the region.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded a $350,000 investment to the LRGVDC for the development of its “Explore Rio Grande Valley” marketing program and mobile application. With matching funds from LRGVDC, the total project is worth $500,000.”

“We are really excited to get this award,” said LRGVDC Executive Director Ron Garza, at a board of directors’ meeting on Wednesday. “We are dubbing this Explore RGV. It will serve as the region’s marketing platform. It is kind of a departure from our core services. But, we are going to bring in a lot of key stakeholders.”

Ron Garza

Garza said the project came about following discussions at the Large Cities Coalition. This group is administered by LRGVDC. Garza said the Valley’s large cities expressed an interest in marketing the region. He said the cities were all set to create a budget and fund the project but held off while Garza investigated if any grants were available. Luckily, he said, there were.

Garza said the first phase of the project will be to create “a comprehensive asset map of the Valley’s treasures.” By way of an example, he said the region’s world birding centers would be included but not, at this stage, hotels or restaurants. Once the asset map is completed the destinations identified will categorized. “We are then going to engage all our chambers, convention and visitors’ bureaus, we want to make sure we do not miss anything,” Garza said.

The last phase, Garza said, is to build a base platform website. “But, the real key to this is to do an interactive mobile app so that visitors to the Valley, either by category or by map or by their fixed location, can see where they are at in the Valley and see what destinations are around them.”

Users of the app will be able to get different suggestions, depending on how long they are staying in the region. “We hope then to have some regional signage,” Garza said. “Once we have this platform, cities can invest their own dollars and market their city, but this could be the tag to create the platform.”

As for the timeframe, Garza said: “We are going to push quick on this so that hopefully, within a year we will have this mobile app.”

Garza added: “Usually, people Google either the Island or McAllen and develop their itinerary from there. We want to give them a one-stop shop so they can formulate their own. Not only are we trying to increase tourism with visitors coming down to the Valley, we want to educate folks that have lived here all their lives but do not know such and such a destination existed. We hear people say, we are the best kept secret, that is not a good business model.”

Congressmen Filemon Vela, Henry Cuellar, and Vicente Gonzalez have expressed their support for the Explore Rio Grande Valley marketing program and mobile application. They said the project will help create a national and international brand that will enhance tourism across the region. And they believe the EDA’s $350,000, along with local matching funds, will help create 25 new jobs in the region, pointing out that the LRGVDC will match the EDA grant with $150,000 in in-kind and matching funds for a total investment of $500,000.

“I am excited the creation of ‘Explore Rio Grande Valley’ will showcase all of the rich history and beauty of South Texas. I would like to thank the EDA for providing the LRGVDC with this wonderful opportunity,” Vela said.

“The secret is out. The Rio Grande Valley is one of the most beautiful destinations in the State of Texas. With this investment, the rest of the country will finally realize what us South Texas residents have known all along. I am especially pleased to hear about the anticipated creation of 25 jobs. I thank the Economic Development Administration for awarding this prestigious grant to the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council and look forward to continuing this partnership in the future,” Cuellar said.

“The Rio Grande Valley is a vibrant and growing region rich in culture and natural resources. With this grant we will have the opportunity to share our diverse communities and traditions with the rest of the nation and we will continue to thrive. Thank you to the U.S. Economic Development Administration for investing in the Rio Grande Valley and recognizing our enormous potential and all that our area has to offer this country,” Gonzalez said.

The comments of the three members of Congress were contained in a news release that also stated:

“The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce that provides grants and technical assistance to communities in order to generate new employment, help retain existing jobs and stimulate industrial and commercial growth through a variety of investment programs. The “Explore Rio Grande Valley” investment is projected to help the Rio Grande Valley create strategies to strengthen the region’s agriculture and aquaculture assets while also promoting economic and human capital development.”

LRGVDC’s Garza said in the news release: “We are thrilled that have the opportunity to facilitate this collaborative regional project with all our partners and stakeholders that will create a universal marketing platform to highlight our region’s vast natural assets and attractions. We’d like to thank EDA for their continuous support and economic investment into the Lower Rio Grande Valley.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in Alamo, Texas.