WESLACO, Texas – Three South Texas groups with a keen interest in economic development want to hear the views of the business community in the region.

The Council on South Texas Economic Progress (COSTEP), Rio South Texas Economic Council (RSTEC), and Rio South Texas Education and Community Development Foundation, are collaborating on a project called Rise of the Region 2025.

Business owners can participate in the Rise of the Region survey by going to COSTEP’s Linked In page. Alternatively they go to the Rise of the Region website.

“I encourage the business community to go our Linked In page, look for our survey, and complete the survey. We are really wanting their input,” said Patricia Beard, CEO of COSTEP.

“This s a grassroots effort. We have no preconceived intentions here. We are letting this be a data-driven decision.”

Beard said from the information so far garnered, there is a lot of excitement.

“We are really excited about it. We think there is a lot of opportunity here to build prosperity for our community. When we come together on an effort, great things can happen. That is what we are looking for. “

Matt Ruszczak, executive director of RSTEC, agreed.

“I encourage everyone to go and participate in the study. It is truly data driven. The business community, you are the source of this data, your opinions, your perspectives truly matter. Your feedback will help shape the future for our region.”

In a Zoom conversation, Beard and Ruszczak explained how Rise of the Region came about. They said an initial, data-driven survey was undertaken in April. Now, in the second phase of the project, they want to validate what the survey showed.

“We want to make sure that the initiatives that have come out of our studies are going to be validated by the businesses and economic development organizations throughout our region,” Beard said. 

Beard said the region is being defined as a seven county area along the southern tip of Texas, along with ten municipalities in northern Tamaulipas.

“We have some great organizations throughout the region who are doing some really good things for their cities. We think we need to broaden that. In our studies, we talked to folks across the border. There is a lot of excitement from our partners across the border regarding economic development and trying to create that talent pipeline that all of the industries are needing.”

Ruszczak said the initial survey was very successful.

“Out of that we got lots of information. So, over the last several months we did quite a bit of analysis of that information to distill down the core themes and the core subject matter that seems to us resonated or percolated in the feedback,” Ruszczak explained.

“As Pat said, we spoke to folks on both sides of the river and we had a tremendous amount of excitement. There was a tremendous amount of passion for regionalism and advancing the region. Advancing economic development, advancing education and really polishing the diamond that we all see the region as.”

Ruszczak said the new questionnaire is designed to “really hone in” on some of the fundings contained in the initial survey. 

“We want to see if the excitement that we heard earlier in the year will translate into direct engagement and involvement by the business community. And so we are being very prudent and very careful about the steps we are taking. And we want to make sure that we have very strong buy-in and very strong understanding of where the needs really are as we move this process forward.”

For her part, Beard hopes the “noise” created by the views of the business community will catch the attention of governmental leaders. 

“We know that, when you bring the masses together it resonates more, right?” Beard said in the Zoom conversation.

“Rise of the Region really speaks to what we are trying to do, we are trying to lift up an entire region, both from and educational standpoint and an economic development standpoint and trying to create a coalition or collaboration of organizations to help us make that happen.”

Beard explained: “We see a window of opportunity. Let’s try to grab that brass ring while we can. We are trying to validate it (the initial survey) and we are hoping that the business community will come together and support the effort.”

One of the most pleasing aspects of the project thus far, Ruszczak said, has been securing the opinions of smart and successful people in South Texas who are not part of the COSTEP or RSTEC organizations. He said that on Zoom conversations with such people, the two organizations and their consultants allowed the conversations to flow.

“We heard from people that are smart and have made things happen, but are not part of our family. We really wanted to hear from them on what they see as the needs and the pain points in the region. We would shut the hell up and get out of the way, let the conversation develop. That is where we saw the excitement about this regional effort. We saw the excitement and the importance in getting engaged and having the private industry at the table.”

As for the new questionnaire, Ruszczak said there are three general themes.

“One, what is your perception of the need for regional economic development and how do you define the region? And does it include the Mexican side or not? The second question is, we identified a set of potential initiatives that crystalized and percolated out of those initial stages of research that we had done and we are putting them to the audience and we are saying, what is relevant to you among these? What do you believe deserves some serious emphasis? The third stage is would you like to get engaged in this effort and if so, how, and at what level?”

Once the results from the questionnaire are in, Beard would like to see a strategic plan develop, based on the research gathered. As part of the strategic plan, she said COSTEP wants to see RSTEC grow. 

“We want a regional organization that is sustainable. Sustainability is the key here. We want this to be a long term solution to the region. Not a short-term solution.”

Watch the Zoom conversation with Patricia Beard and Matt Ruszczak here:

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