McALLEN, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley economy, as measured by sales tax revenues, went “absolutely” bonkers” in March, says Matt Ruszczak, executive director of Rio South Texas Economic Council.

While the figures for the state of Texas as a whole were impressive, up 30.09 percent on the same month in 2020, the increase in the Valley was huge – 42.19  percent.

“It is absolute bonkers,” Ruszczak said, in his monthly analysis of data produced by the Texas Comptroller’s Office.

Ruszczak said it was important to set the stage, when comparing March 2021 with March 2020.

“March 2020 was obviously a challenging time. The pandemic was spreading into the United States and making its way towards Texas. March 2020 was also the month when the bridges closed – March 21st – to non-essential traffic back and forth from Mexico,” Ruszczak said.

“The stock market was taking a nose dive in the month of March, last year, which added to the concern and uncertainty. And we were very rapidly approaching a shelter-in-place order which actually came into effect in April of last year.”

Looking at the economy in March, 2021, Ruszczak said the contrast “could not be starker.” He said March of this year was marked by a general sense of optimism.

“We had a significant ramp up in the vaccinations. We were starting to break records in terms of the vaccination numbers. We also started to see some positive numbers coming out in terms of infection rates and the general strain on hospitals,” Ruszczak said.

“The state reopened in March of 2021. The governor took a very bold step moving forward, re-opening the state, which obviously allowed businesses to start functioning at full speed, 100 percent capacity. And while the bridges were still closed and they are still today, the stimulus money, the big stimulus checks, the $1,400 stimulus check, started coming into people’s bank accounts and mailboxes towards the latter part of March.”

Ruszczak looks at sales tax revenue collections each month for The Rio Grande Guardian. Sometimes he analyzes the figures in a podcast, sometimes a Zoom. In this month’s podcast he said it was important to set the scene. Having done that, he said the fact that sales tax revenues for the state of Texas jumped 30.09 percent in March 2021, as compared to March 2020, was exceptional. He said 30.90 percent was “an absolutely bonkers number.”

But, the Valley did even better, showing a 42.19 percent increase in March 2021, as compared to the same month the year before.

“That means we outperformed the state, which has been a theme for the past year, by 12 percentage points, in terms of the growth rate. A humungous performance,” Ruszczak said.

“And that performance went across the board. If you look at the Valley as a whole, we had 43 out of 44 communities up, March 2021 compared to March 2020. We had 43 out of 44 up five percent, and 40 out of those 44 were up over 20 percent.”

Willacy County was up 27.76 percent; Cameron County was up 47.02; Starr County was up 28.74 percent; and Hidalgo County was up 40.67 percent, Ruszczak reported. 

“Tremendous numbers. I could list almost every community here and give you an eye-popping number,” Ruszczak said.

“A few things happened in March 2021 compared to March 2020. We went to the outlets like we didn’t do before, and we went to the beach.”

Ruszczak rattled off the numbers to make his case.

“After a really challenging 12 months of reports, Mercedes was up a whopping 82.76 percent in the month of March. South Padre Island, this March, was up 114.62 percent. And so we definitely went to the beach,” Ruszczak said.

“The numbers are absolutely outstanding. Obviously fueled by stimulus money, obviously fueled by pent up demand, obviously fueled by general optimism. These numbers, once again, are just bonkers. Wonderful, wonderful, statistics.” 

In fact, all the bigger counties on the border did well. Webb County was up 44.03 percent; Maverick County was up 34.02 percent: Val Verde County was up 44.92; and El Paso County was up 36.88 percent. 

“So, strong performances up and down the border. Really, really, positive news, once again, for the economy,” Ruszczak said.

“Beating the state by 12 percentage points is an amazing sign of the strength of the local economy.”

Ruszczak believes the Valley is handling the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic just as well, pro rata, as it did the Great Recession of 2008-09.

“What I am seeing more and more here is deja vu to the financial crisis. During the financial crisis the Valley stood out as one of the regions in the country that really didn’t suffer a recession,” Ruszczak said.

“We plateaued, for all practical purposes, and then rebounded really hard once everything reopened and the situation got better.”

Ruszczak said the same thing looks to be happening again.

“I think what we are seeing here is early indicators that this is the sequel. We had a really strong performance over the past 12 months in terms of our economy, despite the circumstances and the challenges the country as a whole, the world, the state and in particular our region encountered on the health front. Nonetheless the economy continued very strong. And now we are seeing a really impressive rebound.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows Matt Ruszczak, showing his monthly chart of sales tax numbers for Rio Grande Valley communities. He always highlights those communities that have seen a 20-plus percent growth in yellow. 

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