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EDINBURG, RGV – Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza has been appointed chairman of the Rio South Texas Economic Council for 2015.

The rest of the leadership team comprises Rebeca Castillo, of Brownsville Community Improvement Corp., as vice chair, Pete Gonzalez, of the City of Brownsville, as secretary, Keith Patridge, of McAllen Economic Development Corp., as treasurer, and Eddie Campirano, of the Port of Brownsville, as immediate past chair.

RSTEC was created in 2008. In the past it has attended major trade shows to help lure major manufacturing companies to the Valley. In recent years, however, it has taken on more of a marketing role, seeking to promote the Valley in a positive light and fight negative coverage in the national media. An example of this came during last year’s surge in undocumented immigration from Central America, when it helped frame the message that the inflow of children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador was a humanitarian crisis not a national security crisis.

“We are going to continue to work to help bring communities together. It is a great way to do that, with an organization like RSTEC, which exists to promote the region, Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian, at the end of a RSTEC board meeting held last Friday at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

“I am looking forward to that and working with these great leaders. I think the goal will be to continue to building upon the regional efforts that are underway and find a way to ensure that we continue to promote the region together,” Garza said.

Another part of his job, Garza said, is to help attract more members to RSTEC, to ensure it becomes a top regional voice for the Valley.

At Friday’s meeting there was in-depth discussion on launching a marketing campaign aimed to fighting negative coverage of the region. Gus Garcia, executive director of Edinburg Economic Development Corp., told the board about the findings of RSTEC’s marketing committee. Garcia said the marketing committee discussed spending about $60,000 on a local marketing campaign while also going out to attract $500,000, $750,000 or even $1 million or $2 million for a national marketing campaign.

An example of a campaign the group might have to mount is fighting the perception that the Valley is a war zone. Some members of RSTEC are unhappy that a recent border security bill by the Republican leadership in the U.S. House calls for operation command centers in the Valley similar to those used by U.S. Armed Services in Afghanistan.

“We are very opposed to Rep. McCauls’s proposals because, number one, it sends the wrong message that we are a militarized area, that we are an Afghanistan or that we are an Iraq. We are not,” said Patridge, in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and KVEO News Channel 23 recently. “We have people that get up every day, that go to work, they come home. They go out to dinner with their families. They go to a ball game and nothing happens. This is not a war zone.”

Patridge was speaking on behalf of McAllen EDC, not RSTEC, but the Rio Grande Guardian’s story on Patridge was posted on RSTEC’s website.

At Friday’s board meeting, RSTEC members considered a slogan to promote on billboards around the Valley: “Don’t Kill Your Community.” The slogan came from Adriana Treviño, marketing manager for McAllen EDC. Many members said the slogan had “shock value” but some thought it might be too shocking.

Stella Garcia, president of Texas State Technical College in Harlingen, suggested that a focus group of students at TSTC could be used as a sounding board for different marketing messages. Wanda Garza, a vice president at South Texas College, said her students could fulfil the same role. The board agreed to set up such focus groups, with involvement by RSTEC marketing committee members.

Asked about the focus group idea, RSTEC President Garza said: “We want to bring in all the best ideas we can. We have to come up with a plan to ensure we are promoting ourselves throughout the region but also the world so that when somebody brings up the Rio Grande Valley it is not viewed as it has been, that it is dangerous, but that it is a great place to live, a great place to bring your business, a great place to invest and that it is one of the most important areas in the entire country.”

In addition to discussing promotion of the region, the RSTEC board also considered a request from Julian Alvarez, president of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership (RGVP), that RSTEC help sell tables for an upcoming televised debate between Republican campaign operative Karl Rove and Democratic campaign operative James Carville. Outgoing RSTEC Chair Campirano said RGVP plans to host the debate on KRGV Channel 5 on Feb. 27 and that RSTEC could be listed as co-sponsors, getting valuable TV exposure. RSTEC members said they did not want to sell tables for the event but did want to explore other ways in which they could help make the event a success. They agreed that Campirano should meet with Alvarez for further talks.