EDINBURG, RGV – An economic development project that will have as big an impact as the new medical school will be announced by the City of Edinburg in the next few weeks, says Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia.

Garcia said he cannot reveal any details just yet but promises it will be a major draw for his city.

“At this point we have something new and exciting that we expect to announce hopefully within the next week or so. I think we are already becoming a destination city, certainly after this announcement. But, I am not at liberty to give details of it at this point,” Garcia told the Guardian on Tuesday, at the conclusion of a joint Edinburg City Council/Edinburg Economic Development Corporation meeting.

Asked to elaborate, Garcia said: “It is going to be big. It is going to be huge, right up there with the announcements about the new (medical) school and that sort of thing. We are hoping that this will put the seal and the stamp on us being a destination city for all areas in the Valley.”

Asked if the new project would be as big as the Santana Textiles project, Garcia said: “In a different direction but right up there, yes, in the amount of investment and the amount of jobs and the well-being of our citizens.”

Edinburg City Council members honor state Sen. Juan Hinojosa and state Reps. Bobby Guerra and Terry Canales. Mayor Richard Garcia is fourth from the right. (Photo: Mark Montemayor)
Edinburg City Council members honor state Sen. Juan Hinojosa and state Reps. Bobby Guerra and Terry Canales. Mayor Richard Garcia is fourth from the right. (Photo: Mark Montemayor)

Asked if he did not think he might be tempting fate by making this much known before the announcement, Garcia said. “It is beyond good. It is excitingly good.”

While Garcia did not want to say much about the big announcement, he was happy to talk about all the growth his city is experiencing. He said that because of the creation of a new UT university and medical school in his city growth was inevitable and repeated his oft-quoted saying about preferring to be lucky than good.

“We are expanding our focus so we can prepare for that future growth. It is inevitable. It is coming to our communities, not just to the city of Edinburg but to our communities. We have talked about regional thinking, but we are not just talking. It is happening. We are all holding hands and growing together,” Garcia said, referring to surrounding cities in the Upper Rio Grande Valley.

According to the 2010 Census, Edinburg’s population grew by 59 percent over the previous decade, to reach 77,100. The population growth rate is higher than the state average rate of 20.59 percent and is much higher than the national average rate of 9.71 percent. Edinburg median household income was $37,176 between 2006 and 201, an increase of 28.47 percent over the past decade. Additionally, Edinburg’s is outpacing other cities in the Valley for population growth. More than 50 retailers opened in Edinburg in 2012 and a similar number is projected for 2013.

Garcia said Edinburg leaders were focusing now on improving the quality of life of its inhabitants and future inhabitants. He said he expects people from outside the area to flock to Edinburg because of the quality jobs that will be available.

“We are getting a well-educated workforce. We will get people from out of the area. We have to be able to provide a good quality of life, which includes entertainment, it includes culture, dining, that sort of thing,” Garcia said.

“And, we have to make sure the growth is evenly spread across the city and it is not haphazardly built, that everything ties together, that we have corridors that link the different types of area to make it more comfortable, to make it better. It is all about good urban planning.”

The growth is so great, Garcia said, that Edinburg city leaders can pick and choose which economic development projects to support.

“People are lining up to come and invest in our city and so we have the luxury of picking and choosing. We are in the middle of that. We want a planned community, we are working towards that. You can see that what is happening here is about quality of life, about aesthetics. It is important to our future,” he said.

Garcia was asked if, as a child, he ever thought he would one day live in a major metropolitan area, which is what McAllen-Edinburg-Mission is fast becoming. “I remember being a young man and being at school and thinking about the day when I could go off to the big city, go off to get an education, go off to see better things as far as quality of life is concerned, culture and entertainment, etc. I had no idea what was going to happen here,” Garcia responded.

“We were like a third world country at one time. Many of us are Hispanics. However, we were not well liked by the people from Mexico and on the other side of the coin we were not considered part of the United States. We were in limbo for a while. NAFTA came along, being bilingual became so important, now everybody seems to love us and I am so happy about that.”

Garcia said making Pan American University part of UT and the advent of NAFTA have played a major part in the growth. “Now, we are a destination area. It is amazing. I never thought I would see it in my lifetime. It is just exciting to participate in it and to help it along. I have had the good fortune to travel so I am hoping to use this experience to put ideas together to have the best for our citizens.”

Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia (no relation to the mayor) said he is looking forward to seeing the master plan the UT System is developing for the new university and medical school in Edinburg.

“Chancellor Cigarroa came to town this week. He told us the comprehensive master plan would be presented to the UT board sometime in November. It is moving along well. We are hopeful that we will get the buildings that need to be built to go along with the med school. Here in Hidalgo County there are certain projects we are pushing for but it is still out there. It will be up to the UT System. There will be development,” Judge Garcia said.

Asked if the new UT buildings would come in the short or long term, Judge Garcia said: “We are hopeful it will start soon. It has to be both. Now that we have access to PUF, the university is going to receive some funds that we otherwise would not have and we are hoping to put it into buildings and infrastructure.”

PUF stands for the Permanent University Fund. The Cigarroa mentioned by the judge is Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT System. Asked how big an impact the new university and medical school will have, Judge Garcia said: “The Valley is going to change. We are not going to recognize this area in 25, 30 years.”

Gus Garcia, no relation to the mayor or the county judge, is executive director of Edinburg EDC. He said large manufacturing companies are now looking at investing in the area. He praised the work of the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative and South Texas College in training workers for high-skilled jobs.

“It is important we arrest the brain drain we have had in the past. It costs four to five hundred thousand dollars to train the kids and if they leave, their knowledge, their intellect leaves. We want the new university to become a Tier One university; we want to develop our medical corridor, the medical school, the jobs, the manufacturing. We want to develop bio-technology companies, the research park. As Judge Garcia said, it is hard to appreciate the impact all this growth will have. It will be transformational. And, technology and information will be a big part of that. We believe that innovation economics will grow our region.”

Gus Garcia said it was surely safe to say the Upper Valley and Edinburg in particular have never experienced a time like this.

“We have never experienced a transformational period like this. The great thing about Edinburg is we have the chance to grow it properly. We have the access, we have the land. We are ready to take on those challenges. We were already growing as it was. Now, we expect the growth to be exponential, year after year. The population growth has been phenomenal. We do not see it slowing down. Housing needs will increase,” he said.

Gus Garcia said that the necessary planning and zoning rules are in place to cope with development.

“Retailers, shops, restaurants, they are all looking at this area and saying this exponential growth is going to go somewhere, where is it going to go. Edinburg happens to be in the middle of that growth with a lot of land and access,” he said.

“We probably have five to six unsolicited calls a day asking about locating here. It has quintupled since the announcement of the medical school. So, now I am casting a wider net. It is mind-blowing. I have to double check – did I forget to do anything today? The project list is growing and growing every day.”

Gus Garcia, a former Edinburg city commissioner, concluded his remarks by saying his job is made easier because the city has experienced leadership. “The city council and the economic development council write the playbook and I follow the plays. They let me call these plays. With the leadership we have, we are in a good shape,” he said.