McALLEN, RGV – Alma Ortega Johnson, area president for Wells Fargo Bank in South Texas, asked Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Tuesday if his office tracks foreign investment in Texas.

Ortega Johnson asked the question because she believes the investment is significant and could be much greater, if more assistance is given to would-be investors.

“When it comes to foreign investment, we need to know where we are today, where we want to be, what the gap is and what we need to do to close the gap. I know Mexican nationals and Asian nationals are investing a lot in Texas. I would like to know how much foreign nationals are contributing to our economy,” Ortega Johnson told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“I know that 35 percent of all retail sales in McAllen are from Mexican visitors but how much revenue does the State of Texas generate from foreign nationals living here? Once we have that number we can work out what we have to do, as a strategy, to increase that revenue.

“Whatever it is, retail, tourism, I think Texas could do even more to recruit investment from foreign nationals. That would help the economy even more. You are seeing a lot of Mexicans are flying directly to cities in Texas to shop and invest. They are coming from Mexico to open up new businesses. I think Texas should be looking at what hurdles exist that stop us opening the door even more to these investments.”

Hegar spoke about the state of the Texas economy at a McAllen Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event on Tuesday morning. In answer to Ortega Johnson’s question, Hegar said his office does not specifically track foreign investment into Texas. However, he said it was an interesting question and that he received a similar question from a member of the audience at a Houston Asian Chamber of Commerce event recently.

Hegar was also asked by a reporter if his office tracks Texas-Mexico trade in general. A reporter pointed out that McAllen Mayor Jim Darling recently stated that McAllen pays more attention to the value of the peso than it does the dollar because the state of the Mexican economy is so important to the McAllen economy. Hegar said Texas exported $294 billion in goods and services last year and 40 percent was to Mexico. He said he had been asked recently if Texas was too dependent on the Mexican economy. He said that while 40 percent sounds a lot, some of that trade to Mexico comes back to Texas as imported goods.

After the event, Ortega Johnson spoke in more depth to the Rio Grande Guardian about the importance of tracking foreign investment.

“The banks have economists that follow the border economy but they do not have the data I am talking about. I think it is important for financial institutions or economists or even the Comptroller to analyze this data. We can learn a lot from it,” Ortega Johnson said.

It was pointed out to Ortega Johnson that Select USA, an agency set up by President Obama to promote foreign direct investment in the United States, recently won wave reviews from Brownsville Economic Development Corporation President Jason Hilts. Select USA assisted Brownsville in attracting a major manufacturing foundry project spearheaded by companies from Italy and Finland.

Ortega Johnson responded that the Mexican Consulate’s office in McAllen and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce are doing a lot to help Mexican nationals identify business opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. “I think more could be done. We need to quantify how much revenue in Texas is being generated by foreign nationals. Let’s reach out to them. Let’s see what else they need to bring more business to Texas. We are blessed to have Mexico as a neighbor and blessed to have the Mexicans that want to come to Texas.”

Ortega Johnson added: “We see a lot of flows of Mexicans coming to our bank to find out how to do business in the U.S. They have legal questions, questions about how to invest, how to get a loan, how to get a visa. It is a whole package they need to figure out in order to be successful in the United States. It is not the same as doing business in Mexico. They are learning how to do it.”

Editor’s Note: Pictured in the main image accompanying this story are Alma Ortega Johnson, area president for Wells Fargo Bank in South Texas, and Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar.