AUSTIN, Texas – The success that El Paso has had with the Borderplex Alliance can be replicated all along the Texas-Mexico border, says Secretary of State Rolando B. Pablos.
Pablos ran Borderplex, bi-national economic development organization, for three and a half years before becoming secretary of state. The non-profit organization brings in about two million dollars a year, mostly from the private sector. Pablos said the group had great success in helping reshape the image of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.
“Our job was to work with the Mexican private sector, in Ciudad Juárez, to come together and tell the world about all the wonderful things that occur along the border. A lot of people do not understand the border. A lot of people are even afraid to go to the border,” Pablos said.
“What we did is try to change that perspective. We brought over 100 people from Capitol Hill to Ciudad Juarez to show them that if they cross into Juárez nothing is going to happen to them. To show them that if they come to El Paso, they are going to be safe. Because, everything they hear in the news is completely opposite, right?”
Pablos spoke about the Borderplex Alliance and its success in getting staff members from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to visit El Paso and Ciudad Juarez during remarks made to civic and economic development leaders from Brownsville, Harlingen and San Benito at the state Capitol in Austin on Tuesday.
“It took us a lot of effort, time, money, to be able to bring these people down. You have to understand, these are individuals that work on Capitol Hill, whose job it is to advise members of Congress on border issues and they have never been to the border themselves, then we have a problem, right? So, the idea is to get them down here, to interact with the elected officials, to interact with the private sector. Let me tell you, every single one of them left with a completely different impression of the border.”
One of the success stories during Pablos’ time as head of Borderplex was to get U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to visit Ciudad Juárez for the first time. That happened in May, 2014. Cornyn toured an automotive factory in Juárez. At a news conference held immediately after the visit, Cornyn said: “I’ll spread the word across Texas and in Washington, D.C., that conditions in Mexico and Juárez are much improved and that people should come see for themselves.”
Cornyn’s visit came about thanks to an invitation from El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, Pablos and the Borderplex Alliance.
About the Borderplex Alliance:
From the Borderplex Alliance website:
The Borderplex Alliance is a regional non-profit organization dedicated to economic development and prosperity in the Ciudad Juárez, El Paso, and southern New Mexico region.
As a gateway for international trade, The Borderplex Alliance is the go-to resource for regional ideas, information, and influence. We are supported by a coalition of business, community and civic leaders, all with a shared vision – bringing new investment and jobs to the borderplex region and creating a positive business climate.
The Borderplex Alliance provides regional, national and international development, advocacy, representation, and support to businesses looking to expand their operations within the borderplex region.
Private Sector involvement
In his remarks to Cameron County leaders at the state Capitol on Tuesday, Pablos explained why the Borderplex Alliance was set up and how it is funded.
“My job was to go and develop a bi-national economic development organization. An organization that was led by the private sector, whose function was exclusively to promote the economy on both sides of the border. Not just one or the other but both,” Pablos said.
“We were able to draw some pretty good investment on both sides of the border. Our Texas businesses rely on the maquiladoras, rely on the manufacturing that occurs, our retail outlets rely on visitors coming in from Mexico and so those are the things we need to amplify.
“At the end of the day you know what ended up happening? The communities, especially the business community, realized they couldn’t depend on government for funding so they started writing checks. They started writing their own checks, funding the organization and the organization was the one who came together and sent out a positive message, not only sent out a positive message but deflected negative messages.”
Pablos explained that the Borderplex Alliance became viable and relevant thanks in large part to the private sector. He said the group’s relevancy was proven when El Paso or Ciudad Juárez received negative publicity.
“It was all the businesses that wrote the checks, anywhere from 25,000 dollars to 250,000 dollars. The electric utility out in El Paso wrote a $250,000 check, some of the big guys 100,000 dollar checks, and we had a budget of about two million dollars a year that we used to promote the region and also to deflect and push back on any negativity,” Pablos told the Cameron County leaders.
“The minute something negative is said about the border what do we do? We roll over. Instead what you need to do is fight back and so the only way you are going to do it is do it with an orchestrated public relations effort to fight back on negativity. You need to get on CNN immediately. So, you need to have the mechanism to get you on CNN and say it’s not true, it’s not border wars. But that costs money and what we have discovered is that you can’t rely on government to pony that up.”
Where the government in El Paso was helpful, Pablos said, was in helping facilitate van tours into Ciudad Juárez. “They were able to pay for the bringing of people through their commission of visitors’ bureau,” Pablos said.
Pablos told the Cameron County delegation that communities should work together wherever possible.
“The Rio Grande region, you have to work as a region. There will be rivalries between cities, I know the mayor of Brownsville may not want to share potential job leads with another mayor but at the end of the day everything benefits everyone and that is the hardest thing that I encountered in trying to work on a regional approach: to convince everybody to work together, to bust the silos. Everybody is trying to do the same thing, burning through resources, to try to accomplish the same thing,” Pablos said.
“But, if you come together as a region and recognize that every part of the region has their strengths, has their weaknesses, has their opportunities… and being able to bring everybody together. But, you being up here, being able to work with your great senators and your representatives, they are the biggest champs. Senator Lucio brought the Governor of Tamaulipas to my office, we had a great discussion about what can be done.”
Keep visiting Austin
Pablos encouraged the Cameron County delegation to keep coming to Austin to tell their story.
“Having you up here, coming up here, spending time out of your day, spending your money to come up here, so that you can come and talk to your elected officials is very important. This is exactly how you make your voice heard. So, I want to congratulate you all,” he said.
“You need to come here and talk about all the things I used to talk about when I was in El Paso. Tell them about what is needed but also try to change that rhetoric, that dialogue, change the dialogue so people understand. If you feel they still do not understand, take them down there. The mayor of El Paso had about six van tours where we invited site selector consultants. We invited elected officials. It was expensive, the community came together to pay for it but, at the end of the day, we were able to show off the community.”
Pablos told the Cameron County delegation that the Borderplex Alliance could be replicated up and down the border. “This Borderplex model we created can be applied all the way down to Brownsville. It can be applied throughout the border. I think it is important that we do that.”
Pablos added: “We have to remember not to turn our back on Mexico. Yes, they have gone through difficult problems. Ciudad Juarez, when I got there, it was the most dangerous city in the world. Luckily, things got better. Trying to sell that economy was very difficult but at the end of the day we did a good job because we were able to manage the message, making sure they do not disrespect our border community.”
A Valley Perspective
One member of the delegation from Cameron County that watched Secretary of State Pablos deliver his remarks was veteran broadcaster Ron Whitlock.
“I was very impressed with the speech and want to learn more about the Borderplex Alliance. After the meeting, I asked the Secretary for his advice in replicating the success he achieved in El Paso in the Rio Grande Valley. He gave me advice, encouragement and his business card. I told him I would be calling on him for assistance. My view is we need a bi-national group like Borderplex in the Valley, one that is driven by the private sector and that thinks and acts regionally. Secretary Pablos gave us the road map and for that I am most grateful,” Whitlock said.