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U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, state Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, and Edward Drusina, commissioner of the U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, attended the first BiNED event at UT-Brownsville in December, 2013. (Photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

McALLEN, RGV – The cities of McAllen and Reynosa, as well as Hidalgo County and the city of Edinburg, have been invited to join the Binational Economic Development Zone, otherwise known as BiNED, according to representatives from McAllen Economic Development.

Until recently, the organization has been largely an initiative driven by communities in Cameron County.

In 2014, the cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, and Matamoros signed a historic proclamation endorsing the creation of BiNED to foster economic collaboration between the three communities. The objective is to develop a competitive, innovation driven, advanced manufacturing area spanning and operating seamlessly across the U.S.-Mexico border, according the organization’s website.

The addition of cities in Hidalgo County means that the right elements are being put in place to make the entire region one of the most competitive locations for manufacturing in the world, according to McAllen MEDC CEO Keith Patridge.

“The whole goal is to make the entire border one of the top-three advanced manufacturing centers in the world,” Patridge said. “I have set that goal, but we have all bought into it.”

There are at least four goals needing to be worked on, according to Patridge. Through BiNED, Patridge said he would like to work on reintroducing the concept of an International Combined Metropolitan Statistical Area (ICMSA). He would then be in favor of a study of assets as well as asset mapping in order to gauge where the region is most deficient in the ability to support advanced manufacturing, he said.

The third goal would be to look at workforce and training, and the fourth would be to start reviewing supply chain opportunities in order to identify those resources being purchased outside the area, which can be purchased here instead.

“What we need to do is help fill our local supply base to the point where they can support the companies that are here,” Patridge said. “The key is to build that local support base because if we do that, we could become among one of the most competitive locations for manufacturing in the world. That’s one of the things that has happened.”

Through BiNED, Patridge said he has been in contact with Guillermo Fernandez, who is the executive director for the Mexico/U.S. Foundation for Science (FUMEC) based in Tijuana, Mexico. The organization focuses on all the research labs in Mexico, and works with the U.S. in the areas of innovation and technology.

Patridge said he was asked to a member of the FUMEC foundation board, where he immediately began pitching the idea of BiNED. His Mexican counterparts became excited because they were trying to install something similar on the border between Tijuana and San Diego, Patridge said.

A meeting between BiNED and representatives from FUMEC is tentatively scheduled for late July in San Diego.

“So they put me in touch with the FUMEC Board member from Tijuana last week and we compared notes,” Patridge said. “We are going to support one another in each other’s efforts. We started identifying things that we are focusing on, and again it’s all advanced manufacturing on the border because that is our strength, but then one of their biggest issues is water because they are in a drought.

“The BiNED Board will go out to meet their board to discuss how we can start working together on building this border infrastructure and to support advanced manufacturing,” Patridge said.

The cities of McAllen, Edinburg, Reynosa as well as the County of Hidalgo are all slated to join BiNED in a formal signing ceremony scheduled for late August with U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela.

“I think it’s a great idea because of two things. One, it starts unifying the area, and it starts recognizing that we are one area and we can compete much better on a global basis as a region rather than individual cities. I think that’s important psychologically to get people to see us as a region,” Patridge said.

“I think what will really allow us to move forward as a region is when people start embracing that because it has to be the people that do it,” he said. “You can’t expect a politician to take a leadership role on that because it just won’t work. They just don’t do that. So it really takes the populace, it has to be behind it.”

McAllen EDC pushes for international MSA

Meanwhile, McAllen is using its entrance into the Binational Economic Development Zone, BiNED, to push for international Metropolitan Statistical Area designation.

Economic leaders in McAllen say the creation of one MSA is a key goal for their work through BiNED, which is the collective name for border cities primarily in Cameron County, which are seeking to create a seamless operation for advanced manufacturing across the US-Mexico border.

For the first time since the creation of BiNED in 2014, the cities of McAllen, Edinburg and Reynosa, along with the County of Hidalgo are being invited to join and give their input.

Leaders with McAllen say one of the most important things they can do is to ensure that the region comes together as one large metro area.

“The whole idea in marketing is to really differentiate yourself from everybody else, from the herd,” said McAllen MEDC CEO Keith Patridge.

“What this would do is give us an official recognition of border communities,” he said. “It would show that we are one city that happens to have an international boundary, and that we are unique and need our own designation. So, that’s what we are going for.”

For years, McAllen has fought for reclassification of the MSA label in the Rio Grande Valley. MSAs are designated by population count, giving the Valley’s most populous city, top-billing in most statistical categories.

McAllen says the issue extends beyond the interests of a single municipality.

“It’s because it has to be bigger than just us. So BiNED is going to be important because now we will have more congressmen and senators that will take note,” Patridge said. “This is a visionary concept. Our political leadership has good ideas and they support good ideas. A lot comes out of the communities, but they recognize them and they will support them once they see the viability of it. They have done a great job on that.”

Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story shows Keith Patridge, president & CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a three-part series focusing on the work of McAllen Economic Development Corporation. Parts Two and Three will be posted in the coming days.