McALLEN, RGV – Cities, counties, higher education institutions and economic development corporations in the Rio Grande Valley are trying something new this legislative session.

Steve Ahlenius
Steve Ahlenius

They have set February 10 as RGV Day at the state Capitol in Austin.

For years, representatives of Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, Pharr, Harlingen, Weslaco and other cities traveled to the state capitol independently to advocate for their city’s interests. They have called these events Brownsville Day, McAllen Day, Mission Day, etc. This year, however, things will be different.

On February 10, leaders from across the Valley will visit the state Capitol together, for the first, official, RGV Day. Early that morning, hundreds of participants will board buses and travel to Austin to advocate and discuss topics of importance to the Rio Grande Valley. They hope to enlighten legislators and their staff about the successes and challenges of their region.

During a McAllen Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Council meeting on Wednesday, Steve Ahlenius, president of the chamber, described the initial steps that lead to the creation of RGV Day.

“We were all discussing it in a parking lot when the UTPA Foundation and UT RGV said ‘we’re going to be up there, we can be a part of it’,” Ahlenius said. “All of a sudden, we had three or four groups saying, ‘hey, let’s do this together’. I said, ‘Okay, let’s do this!’”

Ahlenius emphasized the importance of being represented as a region. “For the last ten years, we had done a day for each community.  We had Edinburg Day, Pharr Day, Mission Day.” Ahlenius said.

“It got a little bit frustrating because what we found was one day it was McAllen Day. The very next day, it was Edinburg Day. Then, it was Pharr Day. So I asked, ‘Why are we doing this?’ Everyone was over there doing their own thing. We need to come together as a group and do it as a region,” Ahlenius said.

According to Ahlenius, RGV Day will focus on four major issues during this legislative session.

“The four major issues are border security, workforce development, infrastructure, and higher education,” Ahlenius said. “Keith (Patridge) is drafting the issue on workforce. Ramiro Garza is drafting the higher education one. Infrastructure is being drafted by Julian Alvarez, and I drafted the border security/immigration one.”

Keith Patridge is CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation. Ramiro Garza is city manager for Edinburg. Julian Alvarez is CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the Valley’s regional chamber of commerce.

Close to 80 participants have signed up to be part of RGV Day, Ahlenius said. Participants include representatives of the City of Edinburg, AEP Texas, 20/20 Vision Center, the City of McAllen, Clark Chevrolet, Coldwell Banker, Dannenbaum Engineering, Edinburg Chamber, Farmers Insurance, Hidalgo County Elections, IBC Bank, the Law Office of Greg Turley, McAllen Chamber, McAllen CVB, McAllen EDC, McAllen Hidalgo Bridge, McAllen ISD, Port of Brownsville, Rio Grande Partnership, Schneider Electric, Shepard Walton King, South Texas College, The Warren Group, UT System, UT RGV, Wells Fargo, and Workforce Solutions.

Some cities and organizations that decided not to join will still have their “Day” at a different time.

Ahlenius ended the council meeting by reinforcing the importance of RGV Day.

“These four issues are coming. There are a lot of folks in the Valley that have a lot of interests in it,” Ahlenius said. “We need to make sure to get out in front of these issues and talk about what we want to see happen here in the Valley, as opposed to someone from East Texas or Central Texas saying what needs to go on along the border.”

Ramiro Garza
Ramiro Garza

Edinburg City Manager Garza has also worked to make RGV Day a success. In a telephone interview, Garza said the upcoming visit to the state Capitol in Austin could be viewed as historic.

“I call this an historic day for the Valley. It is the start of a regional effort that will I believe will have a big impact in the years to come. We plan to get stronger every year,” Garza said.

Garza said that in addition to Edinburg and McAllen, other key participants in RGV Day will be the City of Harlingen, the Port of Brownsville, and Starr County, among others.

Asked why Valley cities are having an RGV Day, Garza said: “We need to. We need to be able to promote the issues that are important to the region – issues such as economic development, transportation, workforce training, and higher education. With the formation of UT RGV, we do not really have a choice any more. We have to work together as a region. It is more important than ever.”

Garza said Valley leaders are considering having an RGV Day in Washington, D.C., also.