EDINBURG, RGV – Computer coding, entrepreneurship, advanced manufacturing, population growth and healthcare were some of the subjects covered by three top economic development leaders in speeches at a luncheon hosted by Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Alex Meade, CEO of Mission Economic Development Corporation, Keith Patridge, CEO of McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and Gus Garcia, executive director of Edinburg Economic Development Corporation were the speakers at an event held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

Meade made news at the event by announcing that the City of Mission would be opening a new center to encourage entrepreneurship.

“In order for us to have a sustainable entrepreneurship and STEM environment we have to start with a seed, we have to plant a seed. In this case, I mean this CEED, the Center for Education and Economic Development. The City of Mission by, hopefully, late next year will be moving into the Center for Education and Economic Development,” Meade announced.

Alex Meade
Alex Meade

Earlier in his speech, Meade had played a video showing interviews with the titans of high tech world. People like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and Bill Gates of Microsoft. They explained how they got started in computers. Meade said SEED would have “cool” offices similar to those shown in the video.

“We are taking an old building that we are basically remodeling and we are looking to take everything we have done with Ruby Red and Code the Town and all the other things we have and bring them all together so that the community can use to really change the outlook of our city. It is something of an incubator but at the same time something of an incubator.”

Ruby Red Ventures is a $100,000 small business fund to foster new ideas in Mission. Code the Town teaches young students the basics of computer coding.

“When we came up with a strategic plan, the one thing we thought was best to focus on was education. I think that’s something that every community can agree on,” Meade said. “We thought about focusing on entrepreneurship and STEM education as our number one priority. Our second priority would be business expansion and retention. This is something EDCs do by nature.”

Mission EDC, working with program partners Sylvan Learning and Border Kids Code, started its computer coding initiative called Code the Town, which has already trained over 400 kids from K thru 6 and 100 K thru 12 teachers.

Used in tandem with the city’s Ruby Red Ventures project for entrepreneurs, Code the Town provides a culture for “out of the box” thinking that will lead to growth in the city, Meade said.

“We are teaching kids literally how to write code and take that idea and bring it to Ruby Red,” Meade said. “So you can potentially go through Code the Town or use computer science to go through Ruby Red Ventures, and use your abilities that way. All of this is a pipeline that works together.”

In his remarks at the luncheon, McAllen EDC’s Patridge focused on his group’s legacy in developing the maquila industry in Reynosa and how the emphasis was now shifting towards advanced manufacturing. He said advanced manufacturing was a “niche” that McAllen was developing, calling it the “engine that drives economic prosperity.”

Since 1988, McAllen has recruited over 650 companies and created 156,000 jobs in Reynosa and South Texas, Patridge said. He urged regional unity as a means of securing more major manufacturing projects.

“From our standpoint, as we try to recruit new companies and investment, I will tell you that companies don’t look at city limit signs. They look at regions. When they compare us, they are really comparing us to other regions. As they compare us to those regions, we have to have the infrastructure and the support that will get their attention,” Patridge said. “We really need to split up the pie and focus on areas of expertise. We need to coordinate and work together as a region.”

Patridge said Valley communities cannot do it alone. That model has been tried before, he said. Cities in the Valley initially advertised in piecemeal fashion to recruit business, but failed when they realized that companies have a minimum threshold population they consider when moving to a region, typically around 250,000, according to Patridge.

“We were all advertising trying to recruit all these companies, but guess what, we weren’t successful because we didn’t meet their minimum threshold of a quarter million people. We actually did, but not individually, but collectively we more than met those numbers,” Patridge said.
“As we started coming together we started to use regional numbers as we promoted our region, knowing that when a company came down they would look at everywhere that made sense as a potential location. Then we started seeing big companies coming in,” Patridge said.

Keith Patridge
Keith Patridge

“Some of those (jobs) will require the coding talent that Alex Meade is working on in Mission right now. That’s really what we have been working on,” he said. “Advanced manufacturing requires capital, people, processes and systems that generally require coding and STEM talent, and all the skill sets that go along with it.”

In his remarks, Edinburg EDC’s Garcia said that if current Census trends continue, the population of Edinburg could reach well over one million before the next century. Garcia said that if one considers the last 20 years in the city, the population has doubled from 1990, when the city was at 29,885 to 77,100 in 2010.

“The city of Edinburg doubles in population every 20 years, and we are currently at 85,000 with the annexation that just took place,” Garcia said in his presentation. “In 20 years, Edinburg will be at 175,000. In 40 years we will be at 340,000 people, my daughter will be 45 years old. In 60 years, when she’s 65 years old there will be 680,000 people, which is still in our lifetime. In 80 years there will be 1.36 million people in Edinburg, Texas.”

Garcia provided insight into the healthcare sector as well as population growth in the region, and especially its impact on Edinburg. He referenced UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance.

Gus Garcia
Gus Garcia

“There are a lot of people, and there is a lot of growth that is going to take place here so us as economic developers, how do we prepare for that? We become regional, and we find a way to make our voice louder,” Garcia told attendees in his speech.

Garcia’s speech was cut short because attendees at the luncheon were advised to leave the building due to severe weather.

Garcia later reaffirmed his position on what he called “unfathomable” growth coming to the city.

“This has been one of the fastest growing periods we have seen in a long time. So without those happening, the City of Edinburg has grown, really just doubled in size in 20 years,” Garcia said in an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian following his presentation.

“That trend continues because Edinburg has a ton of available property,” Garcia said. “We have room to grow, so there’s nothing limiting Edinburg from being able to grow in population. If this continues as a trend every 20 years, in 80 years we will have 1.3 million people.”