MCALLEN, RGV – Texas A&M University System has set up an advisory council in the Rio Grande Valley to secure industry feedback and promote advocacy efforts for its planned higher education center in McAllen.

The advisory committee comprises 25 regional civic and business leaders and its founding chairman is McAllen businessman Alonzo Cantu. The panel held its first meeting in McAllen on Friday, May 6.

Alonzo Cantu
Alonzo Cantu

At the meeting the advisory committee learned that the Texas Attorney General’s office has issued a legal opinion that Texas A&M University System can use permanent university fund bonds to construct the first building at the McAllen center.

“I think we had a great meeting last Friday that provided much input for the needs,” James K. Nelson, director of Engineering Academic Initiatives for Texas A&M University System, wrote in an email sent to the advisory committee. “Things are moving quickly and we appreciate all of your help and support.”

Texas A&M University plans to build a $40 million Multi-Purpose Academic Building within the Tres Lagos project currently under construction in north McAllen. The 60,000 square-foot facility will include classrooms, labs, offices for faculty and staff, as well as student services and common areas.

The aim is to provide academic programs in the fields of engineering, engineering technology, biomedical sciences, and agriculture and life sciences. Courses will be taught by Texas A&M faculty and graduates will receive the iconic Aggie ring.

Tres Lagos is a 2,571-acre planned community currently under construction by Rhodes Enterprises in McAllen’s extraterritorial jurisdiction.

The advisory committee is top heavy with men but that could change. Texas A&M System plans to add to the panel in the coming months. It comprises:

•     Alonzo Cantu, CEO/Cantu Construction – founding chair
•     Steve Ahlenius, President & CEO, McAllen Chamber of Commerce
•     Conrado Alvarado, President, Board of Trustees, McAllen ISD
•     Trent Bishop, Vice President of Sales, Lone Star Citrus
•     Eduardo Campirano, Director & CEO, Port of Brownsville
•     Anabell C. Cardona, President/CEO, Valley Grande Institute
•     Sergio Contreras, Executive Director, Pharr Economic Development Corporation
•     Roxanne de la Garza Garcia, Legislative Director, Office of Senator Hinojosa
•     Frank Espinoza, Vice Chairman (Cameron County), American Electric Power (AEP) Texas
•     Michael M. Guerra, Attorney at Law, Michael M. Guerra Law Firm
•     Daniel M. L. Hernandez, Managing Partner, Hernandez Law Firm
•     Mike Hernandez, President & CEO, D&M Auto Leasing
•     Josh Klostermann, President, Texas Insurance Managers
•     Pat Kunz, President, Halff Associates, Incorporated
•    Carlos Margo, Associate Dean, Office of Industry Training & Economic Development, South Texas College
•    Alex Meade, CEO, Mission Economic Development Corporation
•    Keith Patridge, President & CEO, McAllen Economic Development Corporation
•    Rene A. Ramirez, President, Pathfinder Public Affairs
•    Ricardo X. “Ricky” Ramirez, President, IBC Bank
•    T. S. (Terry) Ray, Owner, Terry Ray Construction
•    Mike Rhodes, President & CEO, Rhodes Enterprise Inc.
•    Gilberto Salinas, Executive Vice President, Brownsville Economic Development Council
•    Joe D. Smedley, Purchasing Agent, Rio Grande City CISD
•    Jaime Valverde, Research Science Manager, Lockheed Martin
•    Roberto “Bobby” Villarreal, Director, Economic Development Hidalgo County

“Texas A&M University officials continue to work with local and state officials as they prepare to submit a formal proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The establishment of an Advisory Council has formalized the industry feedback and advocacy efforts,” the Texas A&M University System stated, in a news release provided to media outlets last Friday.

“Members of the Council represent the broad industrial, governmental, economic development, and educational interests of the Rio Grande Valley.”

The news release said Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp is requesting the help of the advisory committee members “in affirming the identified workforce needs in the region as well as advocating for the university’s intentions to support education attainment and economic development.”

In response, the news release stated, the advisory council expressed the need for the entire region to work collectively to support the continued regional economic development.

“This Advisory Council discussion and the timing of the Attorney General’s review signals an important next step in our planning,” said Texas A&M University President Michael K. Young. “The feedback and advocacy of the Council will help us to improve our proposals to state officials and ensure our impact as we seek to make high-quality higher education more readily accessible and affordable for the students and industry who call the Valley home.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was asked for a legal opinion on the McAllen higher education center project by Chancellor Sharp.

In a letter to the Texas A&M University System Office of General Counsel, the attorney general’s staff said the System “may finance the higher education center in McAllen with permanent university fund bonds so long as the center is not a separate degree-granting institution and the center supports the University at College Station.”

Chancellor Sharp said in Friday’s news release that the legal opinion from Paxton’s office was expected and welcome.

“This is what we expected, but we want to thank Attorney General Ken Paxton for his prompt consideration of this important matter,” Sharp said. “This vital educational center will be Texas A&M University in every way, from Tier One faculty whose purpose is teaching, research and service, to the students’ opportunity to achieve the Aggie Ring and a diploma from Texas A&M University.”

In February, Texas A&M University System’s Board of Regents added the Multi-Purpose Academic Building to its capital plan, allowing for planning and design to go forward. The City of McAllen and Hidalgo County are issuing $10 million in bonds towards the construction in addition to providing $8 million in utility and infrastructure investment on the 100-acre site.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp.