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Jason Arms is the City of Pharr's innovation and technology director. Cristina Garcia is business retention manager for Pharr.BIZ.

PHARR, RGV – When it comes to technology in the 21st Century, there are no boundaries and there are no limits, according to Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval.

Cities have to learn to grow and evolve or they will be left behind, he said.

Speaking at the unveiling of the city’s brand new virtual chamber of commerce, Pharr.BIZ, Sandoval spoke about the city’s future when it comes to attracting business.

Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval.
Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval.

“You never know who the customer is going to be,” Sandoval said. “Pharr is going to be the new model for a lot of chambers because you still want to keep those ‘Type A’ functions that chambers do…ribbon cuttings, groundbreakings, educational meetings and such. But, you need to supplement those with something that is more real time and usable for the membership. You couple that with an affordable price, and I think you get a lot of buy in.”

When Pharr saw its chamber membership dwindling in recent years, Sandoval said the city looked to technology to bolster it numbers. Pharr.BIZ, a first for the Rio Grande Valley, was unveiled to promote membership. At the same time, Sandoval, the City is reinventing the way business is done in the region.

The online concept, which is currently used in only a few cities throughout the nation, including Austin and Boston, will allow businesses to network through cutting edge software.

“A few years back we ran into a dwindling situation and noticed that interest in the Chamber was waning. We thought about reinventing it, how to inject some interest as an entity,” Sandoval said.

“That’s where we came up with the idea of a virtual chamber so that the members don’t necessarily have to depend on brick and mortar and a real meeting to get the information, networking or interfacing they need.

“The idea for a virtual chamber came from asking ‘how can we make it more user-friendly?’ Well, everybody communicates through social media so that’s where we grew the idea to eventually put it into action.”

The new service is available to everyone, not just for local businesses, according to Pharr.BIZ representatives. Features on the website will allow members to create coupons and upload their events. Members will be able to network with other businesses as well as with staff at the chamber. The website includes a list of its members for easy communication, and is equipped with links to social media.

“It’s something we are proud to have,” said Cristina Garcia, business retention manager for Pharr.BIZ. “We are proud to be the first in the RGV to launch it, and we are hoping that our surrounding cities do the same because this is the next generation of chambers. This is where we want to be. This is what we want to offer to our businesses.”

Fee for membership is $300 a year for businesses not located within the city. For those in Pharr the cost is $200 a year. Pharr.BIZ has set aside a special discount for non-profit organizations, charging them $100 annually for membership.

Those interested in joining may call the Pharr EDC offices at (956)402-4332.

“We want to encourage everyone to join Pharr.BIZ, Garcia said. “We will have workshops and seminars and different events that will give the businesses an opportunity to network. Employers may send their employees to our website and get educated and certified in different areas and resources depending on what resources they need to grow their business.

“If we can give them a tool to grow and expand, that means a lot to us and that’s what we want to do. We want to provide these services and let everyone know we are here for them and here to assist them in any way we can.”