Tuesday, December 29, 2009

UT System begins planning for Valley medical school

UT System begins planning for Valley medical school
Regents also consider enhancing science, engineering offerings at Brownsville, Pan American campuses.

By Ralph K.M. Haurwitz
Updated: 8:55 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009
Published: 8:49 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 27, 2009

Responding to demographic realities and some prodding from the state Legislature, officials of the University of Texas System have begun to sketch out the prospects for establishing a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

UT System officials also will consider expanding programs in science, technology, engineering and math — the so-called STEM fields that state officials have deemed a high priority — at the Valley's two public universities, UT-Brownsville and UT-Pan American.

The Valley, which is heavily Hispanic and one of the fastest-growing parts of the state, has long been something of a stepchild when it comes to higher education. Neither the Brownsville campus nor the Pan American campus, which is in Edinburg, has a full complement of graduate-level programs.

The region has a shortage of physicians and high rates of poverty, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says the need for a medical school serving the Valley and other parts of South Texas is well-documented.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved a measure that authorizes — but stops short of requiring — the UT System Board of Regents to establish a medical school in Cameron County, whose major cities are Brownsville and Harlingen. A bill mandating creation of a law school did not advance.

At a retreat for UT regents and campus presidents this month near Austin, a rough consensus emerged on the educational, economic and political merits of expanding the UT System's offerings in South Texas. Regents Gene Powell and Robert Stillwell said the time might be ripe for the system to announce some sort of major initiative — or, as they put it, "plant the flag."

William Powers Jr., president of UT-Austin, urged officials...
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Sunday, December 27, 2009

JC Penny Returns to Weslaco

JC Penny Returns to Weslaco

WESLACO, TX – The Weslaco JC Penney store opened October 2, 2009 and the economic impact from local sales tax will be felt for years to come. However, Weslaco has seen a positive impact since the construction began on the 104,000 square foot store more than a year ago. Money has been spent in Weslaco as contractors and equipment were hired to prepare the land and construct the building as well as the folks who are merchandizing the store. Local hotels, eateries and entertainment venues have benefited. The store is getting ready to open and more than 125 people have been hired, most of them from the Weslaco area. Ventures like this create so much more than just sales and property tax for the area; the impact begins from the earliest stages and has a lasting impact.

The Weslaco trade area has more than 200,000 people residing in a ten-mile radius of Texas Blvd and the Expressway. Money from this population for years has been spent in McAllen and other metropolitan areas for goods and services that can now stay in our trade area. Hernan Gonzalez, the Executive Director of the Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco says that bringing in retailers like JC Penney will begin to stop the leakage of those dollars. “Bringing in JC Penney is just the beginning of the phase. We will be able to attract other national retailers and restaurants to our city, which will keep more of our trade dollars here. It’s a cycle,” he adds. “Once you begin this cycle you then can attract more visitors to the area’s attractions like downtown and the nature centers. Everyone benefits.”

The General Manager of the Weslaco JC Penney, Maribel Jacquez, has been a dedicated employee of the retailer for last 16 years but has been a loyal shopper of the store since she was a child. She grew up in a farm community outside El Paso, Texas and has fond memories of driving into the city with her mom to shop at JC Penney, never dreaming that one day she would be running her own store for the company. On one of those outings to the El Paso JC Penney, she applied for a job and was hired on the spot and has been with them since. Reopening a JC Penney store in Weslaco means so much more for Ms. Jacquez, “it means we are back to stay and make a difference in our community!” She feels strongly that the staff at the store is proof of the commitment that Weslaco has in its people and their desire and willingness to grow. She adds “Weslaco has been amazing! We appreciate the support that we have received at our new location. It has been a joy to see the anticipation growing as customers show up daily to see if the store is open.” The customers are excited and ready to shop and the staff cannot wait to open their doors. JC Penney is very committed to the communities which it serves. Ms. Jacquez said in Weslaco they will be supporting the 4H programs with volunteers as well as financial donations.

The assistant store manager, Susie Hernandez has been with JC Penney for many years, starting with the McAllen store and then the Edinburg store last year. She is excited to be part of the growth of the company as she helps in opening another new store in the valley. “Weslaco is an exciting place to be these days – The community wants growth. You can see it in their efforts such as beautification projects and revitalization of downtown,” said Hernandez.

The long anticipated opening of the new JC Penney store in Weslaco has deeper meaning for Sales Manager, Jesse Rodriguez. The Weslaco native started with JC Penney more than thirty three years ago while he was still in high school, and then continued to work for the store while going to college and made it his career once he earned his degree. When JC Penney closed its doors in downtown Weslaco he worked for the McAllen store. It is with great pride that he is part of the opening of the new store in his home town. He knows that the people are starving for this type of establishment. “JC Penney is a company you can be proud to work for, but I take greater pride in the fact that I’m helping to bring this store back to Weslaco and in a big way,” Rodriguez said. “The store front right on the expressway shows people that as a city, we are growing and have a lot to offer visitors and the people who choose to make Weslaco their home,” he added.

The opening of the Weslaco JC Penney store is not just about the economic impact it will have on the city, it is about jobs, the people and more importantly the community.

Rumors Circulate Santa Aiming for World Speed Record for One Night Deliveries

Rumors Circulate Santa Aiming for World Speed Record for One Night Deliveries
Source: Mission Economic Development Authority
Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Residents in South Texas are expressing joy and excitement over the news that Santa may be relying on America's newest International Bridge in his bid to break the previous world speed record for deliveries in a single night.

The Anzalduas International Bridge, a $168 million dollar bridge connecting Mission and McAllen, Texas, to the industrial hub of Reynosa, Mexico, features technology that aims to speed safe crossings.

"I completely understand why Santa would have confidence that the new Anzalduas International Crossing would save him some serious time on his deliveries this year," says Pat Townsend, CEO of the Mission Economic Development Authority in Mission, Texas. "With the strategic location of the Anzalduas Bridge, he would certainly be able to make his Christmas deliveries to the good little boys and girls across North America faster than ever."

Though facts have been difficult to verify, some reports show Santa also holds the previous speed record for single-night global deliveries from 1973, a year besieged by rising oil prices that kept traffic to a minimum.

"We are all rooting for Santa here in South Texas," says Daniel Silva, Project Manager at the Mission Economic Development Authority. "This new International Bridge was designed to speed the flow of traffic safely between our country and our neighbors of Mexico to the south. But even Santa would save some time this year by using Anzalduas."

Louis Grinch, President of the Society to Undermine Perfect International Deliveries (STUPID) is not convinced. "It's not 1973 anymore. Santa is simply not taking into consideration the increases in international security measures and the huge increases in global traffic. That better be one magical bridge if he's placing his hopes in saving enough time there."

The bridge is ready, having opened for traffic only days ago. The Anzalduas Crossing may well hold the key to Santa's successful record breaking attempt. Delays are anticipated in North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Detroit, and Santa will need to make up at least 2 nanoseconds at Anzalduas to have a shot the record.

Others are more supportive. "I love Santa," says 4-year-old Monica Lopez of South Texas. Lopez is planning to be asleep when Santa crosses Anzalduas late on Christmas Eve. "I like toys."

Recent pictures of Santa show that he appears to be up for the challenge, looking more fit and trim than in recent years.

Whether or not Santa succeeds, Mission Economic Development Authority has agreed to post the results on the Anzalduas website the day after Christmas at www.USMexicoBridge.com and on Santa's record-breaking attempt website, www.GoFastSanta.com.

Pat Townsend Jr.
Mission Economic Development Authority
Source: Mission Economic Development Authority

McAllen’s Downtown Is a Destination

McAllen’s Downtown Is a Destination
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McAllen continues to pump more lifeblood into its heart.

In 2004, during the city’s 100th birthday celebration, McAllen officials introduced a Heart of the City initiative. The goal of the project was to restore vitality to the historic downtown area by attracting new businesses‚ providing adequate parking‚ attracting international shoppers‚ creating new jobs and increasing property values.

Six years after the initiative began, city officials point out that downtown McAllen has become much more energetic, having attracted many more shoppers and several new businesses to the district. Examples of a revitalized look include venues like Buda Bar & Espana that welcomes a more affluent clientele, and the McAllen Chamber of Commerce that has moved into a beautiful downtown building along Ash Avenue.

In addition, the historic Marriott Renaissance Casa de Palmas hotel has been renovated but remains a reminder of the city’s colorful past, and Nuevo Santander Gallery now has a Mediterranean look that reflects McAllen’s history and heritage among the fine art, antiques and Old West collectibles it sells.

Other recent improvements throughout the downtown community include a new bus terminal along with decorative lights along several downtown sidewalks. In addition, a five-story parking garage was constructed and opened downtown in 2007, and the historic El Rey Theatre has been revitalized.

Heart of the City officials point out that continued development of a strong retail sector in the downtown area will bring in even more shoppers to contribute to sales tax revenues, while a more scenic and decorative district further enhances the overall civic image. Future goals for the district include registering McAllen in the Texas Main Street Program, installing a trolley system, creating an arts culture destination for the Rio Grande Valley, and attracting large anchor stores to support and attract new businesses and merchants.

Also, the city hopes to establish more parks and green space areas, and have more high-rise condominiums and lofts available for people looking to live in a downtown environment.

Story by Kevin Litwin
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McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX Ranks 12th in Farmers Insurance Group's Most Secure U.S. Places to Live for 2009

Farmers Insurance Group's Most Secure U.S. Places to Live for 2009:
Large Metro Areas (500,000 or more residents)

Austin-Round Rock, Tex.

Des Moines-West Des Moines, Iowa

Madison, Wis.

Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick, Md.

Rochester, N.Y.

Honolulu, Hawaii

Syracuse, N.Y.

El Paso, Tex.

Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, Me.

Nassau-Suffolk Counties, N.Y.

Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minn.

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Tex.

Portland-Beaverton, Ore.-Vancouver, Wash.

New Haven-Milford, Conn.

Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, Conn.

Pittsburgh, Pa.

Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, Wash.

Colorado Springs, Colo.

Denver, Colo.

Scranton-Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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Nelsen: Rio Grande Valley is biggest education lab in U.S.

Nelsen: Rio Grande Valley is biggest education lab in U.S.
Posted: 12/16/2009
Author: Rio Grande Guardian

EDINBURG, Nov. 18 - Robert Nelsen says the Rio Grande Valley is the biggest education laboratory in the United States, which is why he wanted to be president of UT-Pan American.

Nelsen will become UTPA’s eighth president on Jan. 1, 2010. He explained how humbled and thrilled he was to be taking the new position in a brief but passionate speech to students, faculty and staff in the Student Union auditorium on Wednesday afternoon. He has big ambitions for the university.

“I am humbled and thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with you to make UTPA the shining star of education, in the Valley, in Texas, in the nation,” Nelsen said. “We will be the university that everybody else wants to emulate. We will be the one that they will say, ‘we got it right,’ because we will do it together.”

Among those listening to Nelsen’s speech were UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, UT System Regent Janiece Longoria, and UTPA Interim President Charles Sorber. Longoria was on the search panel that recommended Nelsen to the UT System Board of Regents. She described him as “formidable, articulate and charismatic.” She said he spoke compellingly “from the heart.”

Nelsen threw out a lot of statistics in his speech showing just what a challenge the university and the region face. The Valley covers 116 square miles and has a population of 700,000 people, he said. The region is slated to grow by 15 percent by 2015, he pointed out.

Nelsen said nine out of ten kids in the Valley want to go to college. The good news about those entering UTPA is that 80 percent arrive college-ready, he said. The “sad part,” though, is that 42 percent of them will end up in developmental education class. The Valley is also socio-economically challenged, he explained, stating that 66 percent of its people earn less than $30,000 a year.

“At UTPA last year $100 million went in financial aid to these students. Eighty percent of the students were on aid. Fifty eight percent of the students needed Pell grants. We are reaching out there and offering opportunities to a generation that is going to be able to change this Valley and this world and we are doing it because we care about them,” Nelsen said.

Nelsen said that when he was asked why he wanted to be the president of UTPA, the first answer he gave was because it was in the middle of the Rio Grande Valley. “It was in the middle of the biggest lab there is for education in the United States. It was an opportunity to come to that lab and see education blossom and see people’s lives change.”

He said he wanted the job also because of the students. “Because of the chances and opportunities they will have and because of all of the other children in the Valley and in Texas,” he said.

Nelsen said there is no more important a region than the Valley when it comes to education.

“As the Valley goes, so goes Texas. I’ve heard that so many times and I really believe it. But I also believe something else. And that is if we don’t get it right in Texas we aren’t going to get it right anyplace. And if we don’t get it right in the Valley, we aren’t going to get it right anyplace whatsoever,” Nelsen said.

Nelsen said he and the faculty and staff will make UTPA the nation’s “shining star” through collaboration, cooperation and partnerships. “They will be the road to our success and they will be the road to getting it right in South Texas. Instead of building walls we need to be building bridges,” he explained. He then went on to describe where those bridges are needed.

“We need to build bridges to the industries, we need to build bridges to families, we need to build bridges to politicians, we need to build bridges to school districts, we need to build bridges to the community colleges, we need to build bridges to moms and dads out in the Valley so that their kids want to come here,” he said.

“And we as faculty members need to be building bridges amongst the various disciplines, tearing down silos, creating new and exciting things that are out of the box; that are going to allow those students to have opportunities.” There was applause from the audience after that line. “These bridges are the pathways to our success and to the students’ success,” he added.

Nelsen was accompanied by his wife Jody, who is also in higher education. He explained that he was born and raised in a Valley, but one very different to the Rio Grande Valley. In the Montana Valley he grew up in, there were 30 kids in his senior class. That was the highest number the school had seen, he said. Everybody worked on ranches and dreams were hard to come by, he said. He said he got good at tests and was “lucky” to get out of his Valley.

There has been a lot of lip service paid to the Rio Grande Valley over the years, Nelsen said, but there has also been ...

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Just one metro area (McAllen) regained its pre-recession peak employment level...reported recently by The Brookings Institution

In a Recent Report by The Brookings Institution: Just one metro area (McAllen) regained its pre-recession peak employment level
The Brookings Institution
December 2009 — MetroMonitor:
Tracking Economic Recession and Recovery in America’s 100 Largest Metropolitan Areas Cities, Regions and States, U.S. Economy, Unemployment, Housing

Click Here to Read Full Report

Nationwide, the recession is over—at least in the view of most economists in light of third quarter 2009 indicators. They revealed a real U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) increasing at a 2.8 percent annual rate, after four consecutive quarters of contraction. Most interpreted that rate of output growth, along with other signals such as increasing housing prices, as indication that the economic recovery is underway.
Six metro areas—Albuquerque, Austin, McAllen, San Antonio, Virginia Beach, and Washington, DC—had regained their pre-recession peak level of output by the third quarter. Just one metro area (McAllen) regained its pre-recession peak employment level. No metropolitan area had a lower unemployment rate in September than it did one year earlier, though increases over that period ranged widely, from a little over 1 percentage point to more than 8 percentage points.


Local officials visit Asia to learn about world-class manufacturing; recruit new companies

Local officials visit Asia to learn about world-class manufacturing; recruit new companies

Local officials from the Rio Grande Valley meet with Mr. Masataka Kataoka, President/CEO of ALPS, in early November 2009 in Japan. Kataoka invited the local officials to tour the ALPS headquarters and centers for advanced manufacturing. ALPS already has located several divisions and a corporate headquarters in McAllen/Reynosa.

During a week-long trip in early November, economic development officials and educators traveled to Korea and Japan to visit with prospective companies and meet the leadership team at ALPS, a global leader in the manufacturing of electronic components and switches.

ALPS already has several manufacturing operations in McAllen/Reynosa. Representatives from the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, Mission Economic Development Authority, Hunt Valley Development, South Texas College and the University of Texas-Pan American used this trip as an opportunity to promote the region as the place for advanced manufacturing given the strategic border location, labor force and educational programs.

The trip started in Korea, where the group met with more than 20 companies that expressed an interest in the McAllen/Reynosa area. “We already have several Asian companies doing business in McAllen and Reynosa, so we use this opportunity to promote the area as an ideal location for manufacturing and business and we also can follow-up with our existing clients,” said Keith Patridge, President/CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

“This outreach strategy is critical to discuss the advantages of our region with the decision-makers face-to-face in their country.”After the seminars and company visits in Korea, the group traveled to Japan thanks to a personal invitation from Mr. Masataka Kataoka, President/CEO of ALPS. Since the early 1990s, ALPS has had a presence in McAllen/Reynosa and has partnered with STC and UTPA to provide training and educational opportunities for local employees. Over the years, ALPS has hired several UTPA and STC graduates to work within all divisions of the company.

Mr. Kataoka, along with other ALPS executives, has visited McAllen several times and invited the McAllen team to see first-hand the company’s new technology and to announce that they are creating 40 more jobs and relocating an additional division in McAllen.

Mr. Kataoka hopes to start an exchange program for Rio Grande Valley students and instructors to study at the ALPS facility in Japan with potential job opportunities within the McAllen/Reynosa operations. He unveiled the idea to representatives from STC and UTPA.

“During our time in Korea we made contacts with very high-level universities with strong programs for commercialization of research and technology, and it is our intent to develop these relationships for the benefit of regional technology-based entrepreneurship endeavors” said Dr. Miguel Gonzalez with UTPA. “And the opportunity to meet with the ALPS leadership in Japan was priceless as we saw and experienced cutting-edge advanced manufacturing technology at all levels in their operations. This trip will translate to new lessons and techniques in our manufacturing and engineering classes at UTPA.”

Officials from South Texas College, who have worked closely with ALPS for several years on trainings and grants, were also pleased to hear ...

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Anzalduas Bridge ushers in new era of trading opportunities, say Valley leaders

Anzalduas Bridge ushers in new era of trading opportunities, say Valley leaders

Picture: Carlos I. Garza, chairman of the Anzalduas International Bridge Board.

MISSION, Dec. 15 – The opening of the Anzalduas International Bridge on Tuesday will boost trade between Texas and Mexico and improve the border economy, say local political leaders.

“This bridge increases our capacity for cross border trade and traveling to and from Mexico,” said Carlos I. Garza, chairman of the Anzalduas International Bridge Board. “An increase in cross border activity will improve the economies on both sides of the border.”

Anzalduas International Bridge is situated three miles west of the Hidalgo/Reynosa International Bridge, off of Military Highway and Anzalduas Highway (FM 396) in Mission. It connects Mission, Texas, with the west side of Reynosa, Tamaulipas.

The bridge will operate seven days a week from 6 am to 10 pm. Traffic began flowing on the bridge at 6 a.m. on Tuesday. Unless and until a federal permit is obtained, Anzalduas will not be able to handle commercial traffic. It is restricted at this stage to handling non-commercial vehicular traffic. City officials in Pharr have protested Anzalduas obtaining a permit for commercial traffic because their international bridge is yet to hit capacity for such traffic.

The international port of entry includes southbound tolling and administrative facilities. The federal government’s Customs and Border Protection will operate inspection facilities on the northbound lanes. The General Services Administration built the bridge’s federal facilities.

Garza pointed out that Mexico is Texas’ biggest trading partner. He said he expects the Anzalduas route to significantly reduce travel time to the Mexican city of Monterrey, a major manufacturing center and important trade partner for Texas.

The new crossing will cut down commute time for thousands of U.S. workers employed at maquiladoras, manufacturing plants immediately across the border in Mexico, Garza said, pointing out that the span also connects McAllen’s Foreign Trade Zone and the massive Sharyland Plantation development directly to Reynosa’s fast-growing west side and its modern industrial parks.

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez said the new crossing is the result of intense collaboration on the international, federal, state and local levels and an investment worth more than $100 million. It is a collaborative project between the cities of McAllen, Mission, Hidalgo and Granjeno and a decade in the making.

“The opening of the Anzalduas International Bridge will get us closer to being the destination of choice for international business development and it will make it easier for Mexican tourists to cross more efficiently,” Cortez said. “It is a complement to the many assets we are developing to make our region the choice to many who are seeking quality of life.”

Bringing Anzalduas International Bridge from concept to reality has taken more than a decade. Mission Mayor Norbeto “Beto” Salinas said he was excited to finally be celebrating the bridge’s opening.

“We have been working really hard on this project for the last 12 years along with McAllen, Hidalgo and Granjeno,” Salinas said. “This is going to be very good for our communities, including Mexico; it will stimulate business and tourism for both countries. We built this bridge that will strengthen our ties with our neighbors to the South as well as a stronger economic future for our area.”

Hidalgo Mayor John David Franz also expressed excitement about the completion and opening of the bridge.

“The opening of the Anzalduas International Bridge brings us closer to being the best option for international business development and it facilitates travel for Mexican tourists, allowing faster crossings,” Franz said.

The official bridge inauguration is scheduled for January 2010.

Here is an Anzalduas International Bridge Project Fact Sheet produced by the Anzalduas International Bridge Board:

• Bridge is located in Mission, Texas south of Military Highway and Bryan Road. Crossing is 3 miles west of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge, off of Military Highway and Anzalduas Highway (FM 396).

• Anzalduas is the closest international crossing to Mexico City and Monterrey. Route will reduce travel time to Monterrey by 30-45 minutes.

• Anzalduas International Bridge has four entrance lanes, including a SENTRI Lane in the United States. Bridge span is 3.2 miles (5.1 KM) from port to port and features 4 lanes, two safety bump-out spaces, and a pedestrian walkway. Lanes elevated to preserve nearby U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge.

• Anzalduas is a joint public project between the cities of McAllen, Mission, Hidalgo and Granjeno, TX DOT, the federal government (GSA) and the Republic of Mexico worth over $100 million dollars.

• In Texas, the Anzalduas International Bridge connects to the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone, where more than 410 companies are based; and the Sharyland Plantation, a 6,000 acre residential, industrial and retail development.

• Dozens of multi-national corporations are located in state of the art industrial areas near Anzalduas’ entry in west Reynosa, MX. The companies include: Nokia, Matsushita, Black and Decker, Fujitsu, Seimens, Corning, TRW and Symbol Technologies

• Anzalduas International Bridge hours of operation: 6 am to 10 pm, daily

• Official bridge inauguration is planned for January of 2010

Time Line

1992-1998 Preliminary design and site location studies by Halff and Associates

1994 Wilbur Smith Associates complete traffic study

1994-1998 Review of preliminary application for U.S. Permit by U.S. federal agencies

1995 Four party agreement with federal agencies for land use at site

July 1999 U.S. Presidential Permit issued by President Clinton

Feb 2001 Initial exchange of diplomatic notes with Mexico

Fall 2003 Approval by federal agencies of construction plans

Fall 2007 June 2007, bridge groundbreaking ceremony

Fall of 2009 Anzalduas International Bridge Completed

Anzalduas Bridge Board Summary of Costs from 2007 to 2009

Bridge Contract to Williams Bros - $28,713, 014

Toll Plaza Building & Landscaping - $3,078,014

Roadways, Drainage & Site Improvements - $3,961,122

Water, Sanitary Sewer Lines - $2,296,078

Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment - $909,011

Electrical Utilities & Lighting - $1,543,206

All other owner’s expense - $2,796,171

Grand Total - $43,296,616

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Legendary former McAllen Mayor Othal Brand passes away

Legendary former McAllen Mayor Othal Brand passes away
McALLEN, Dec. 12 - McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez and his city commission colleagues have paid their tribute to former Mayor Othal Brand, who died Saturday aged 90.

“On behalf of the City of McAllen, we extend our warmest and sincerest condolences to the Othal Brand, Sr., family. Brand served as a public official in the City of McAllen for 30 years and he still continued to work tirelessly for the McAllen community to make it better,” Cortez said.

“He always said he loved this community and we felt the same about him.”

Brand died peacefully in his sleep at 1.05 a.m. Saturday morning at Rio Grande Regional Hospital in McAllen. His son Othal, Jr., otherwise known as O.E., and his daughter Karen were by his side when he died.

Brand had been flown from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, by air ambulance on Friday at the request of his wife Katherine, better known as Kay, so that he could be back in his beloved Rio Grande Valley.

“Othal’s passing was uneventful and peaceful,” a family member told the Guardian and Ron Whitlock Reports. “He was given a mild sedative at 11 p.m. last night even though he was not in pain. Those at peace with the Lord go peacefully.”

The Brand family went forward with a ceremony Saturday evening at the Valley Christian Heritage School in Alamo to honor Othal Brand, Sr, and Kay Brand. O.E. Brand sang at the event.

Brand served as mayor of the City of Palms for 20 years and many of its business and political leaders say he made the city what it is today, a progressive yet financially stable municipality.

Eddie Zamora, a Republican candidate for Congressional District 15, has worked for Othal Brand Sr. and Jr. for the past five years.

“McAllen, the Rio Grande Valley, Texas, America lost a very good patriot, a good conservative, an American. He served his country, as did his wife, admirably in World War II. He was boxing champion in the Marine Corps back in 1942,” Zamora said.

“In fact, when I started working there five years ago he was still working out on the punching bags. He was a go-getter.”

Anthony Covacevich, a former Weslaco city manager who now works for Hollis Rutledge & Associates, said: “Whether you agreed with him or not, Othal Brand always had the best interests of McAllen in his heart.”

Brand was flown to the Mayo Clinic two weeks ago for tests and observations after Valley doctors found three liters of fluid on his left lung. Discussing the visit, O.E. Brand said: “It is called old age. My father jokingly said to me the other day, ‘the body is no different to a machine, eventually it just wears out’.”

Earlier this year, state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, passed a resolution in the legislature honoring Mayor Brand.

As well as serving as mayor of McAllen for 20 years, Brand was a founder of Griffin & Brand, a McAllen firm specializing in growing and shipping fruits and vegetables.

Up until his death Brand served in elected office, as a member of the Hidalgo County Water Control and Improvement District No. 3 in McAllen. He served on the board with his son and another former McAllen Mayor, Leo Montalvo.

Brand was recognized with a Resolution by the City of McAllen at a meeting last January. The proclamation read as follows:

Whereas, Othal E. Brand Sr. (Mayor Brand) was the eldest of six children born to Homer and Ilee Brand (both deceased) on August 12, 1919 in Grayson, Georgia. Mayor Brand was raised in Atlanta where he was exposed to the fruit and vegetable industry at an early age following his father’s footsteps. Mayor Brand and his brother Bill, began peddling produce at an early age and with hard work and determination, established their produce business as Brand Brothers Produce of Atlanta, Georgia; and

Whereas, in 1941, Mayor Brand enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served during World War II. Upon his return from the war in the early 1950’s, Mayor Brand rebuilt the produce business and later partnered with Jack Griffin to establish Griffin & Brand of McAllen, a major refrigeration, packing and distribution center. Mayor Brand became a leading figure in the Texas vegetable industry and one of the nation’s largest vegetable producers, processors and shippers and in 2004, he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Hall of Honor for his significant contributions to agriculture and ranching in Texas; and

Whereas, in 1973, Mayor Brand was elected City Commissioner of the City of McAllen and in 1977 was elected Mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Mayor Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels; and

Whereas, citizens of McAllen give credit to some of the city’s evolution to Mayor Brand as during his tenure in office, the city flourished economically as seen in infrastructure and placed McAllen on the map as a thriving city; and

Whereas, Mayor Brand has been married to Kathryn Louise since 1945 and they have four children: Lynn, Karyn, Cynthia, and Othal Jr. They also have numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren; and

Whereas, the City of McAllen hereby extends their most sincere gratitude to Othal Brand Sr. for his leadership and commitment toward the betterment of this great city;

Now therefore, I, Richard Cortez, Mayor of the City of McAllen, Texas by virtue of the authority vested in me and on behalf of the Mayor and the City Commission, do hereby proclaim January 26, 2009 as

“Mayor Othal Brand Day”

Ron Whitlock of KVEO-TV's Ron Whitlock Reports contributed to this story.

Send your tributes to Othal Brand to updates@riograndeguardian.com.

Write Steve Taylor and Ron Whitlock

Little by little McAllen is becoming a threat to the leading inland port between Mexico and the U.S.

Little by little McAllen is becoming a threat to the leading inland port between Mexico and the U.S.

LAREDO, Tx.- While Laredo is still indecisive about building a new international bridge, McAllen, in the Texas Valley, is little by little becoming a serious threat to the leading inland port between Mexico and the U.S.

On Tuesday December 15 the new international bridge Anzaldúas will open its doors to the public. The bridge was constructed between McAllen, Mission and Hidalgo, Texas, while on the Mexican side Reynosa was the sole partner.

This new international crossing is being promoted as the longest bridge between Mexico and the U.S. with a length of almost 4 miles; and it is the third international crossing for this border region.

Roy Cantu, public information officer in McAllen said in a press release that this bridge will eventually become the shortest and fastest route to connect to Monterrey and Mexico City.

The international bridge had a total cost of 80 million dollars for the U.S. side, and it has two lanes in each direction, plus it has two more lanes for damaged vehicles that can later be used for commercial vehicles, when international trade demands it.

The bridge is located three miles up the river from the Hidalgo and Reynosa bridge.

Leaders from the community as such as ex County Judge Mercurio Martinez, warned the local authorities that time is running by and that other ports can end up winning us in the race, if we continue to have such a passive and indifferent attitude.

"It is time to move and begin to work together and get ready for the tremendous amount of international trade loads that will come especially from Lazaro Cardenas Port in Mexico," Martinez pointed out.

Unfortunately in this border the project for a new international bridge is still stuck because even though Nuevo Laredo wants to go forward with it, the Laredo authorities decided to go a step back and change the location that had already been decided on for the construction of the new bridge.

Project 45 is the location promoted by Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza Barrios, together with the government of the state of Tamaulipas, which aims at building the bridge on the south side of the city, in a piece of land that abuts with the U.S.side, near Rio Bravo and El Cenizo, and the outskirts of Laredo.

"We need to work together and we must do it now, we can't continue waiting, it would be great if we could reach an agreement now and start as soon as possible with this project that will benefit both sides," Wawi Tijerina stated.

It must be pointed out that the Webb County authorities do support Nuevo Laredo's plan, however it was Laredo's City Council that decided to all of the sudden put a hold on the project, and move it the location to a place that seems almost impossible to build a bridge for the Mexican side.

County Judge Danny Valdez mentioned that if this not the time to build a bridge, then it is time to start with all the planning and studies, to have them ready whenever it is time to build it and thus avoid other bridges and cities to take a head start over los Dos Laredos region.

While Laredo only has "bickering", McAllen has a new international bridge in two days, and they will take advantage of the sleepiness that has taken over the Laredo authorities.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Border Bank Hits Billion Dollar Mark

Border Bank Hits Billion Dollar Mark
By Kent Paterson
(Scroll down to learn more about Texas Border Business's New official Guest Writer)
Texas Border Business

In a milestone of sorts, the North American Development Bank (NADB) recently exceeded the billion dollar mark in financing projects for the US-Mexico border region. Chartered as a result of the environmental side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement, the NADB provides loans and grants to both US and Mexican communities.

The latest projects funded by the bank include road paving in Tijuana, wastewater treatment and systems in Nuevo Laredo and storm water systems in El Paso, Texas. In El Paso, the bank has agreed to purchase $53 million in 20-year municipal revenue bonds at a 5.38 percent interest rate.

Juan Antonio Flores, NADB spokesperson, told Frontera NorteSur the deal was a good one for the Texas border city, since 35 percent of the interest payments on the loan will be reimbursed to El Paso by federal stimulus funds. “They get interest brought down,” Flores said.

The NADB official said construction of the system, which should help El Paso withstand flooding disasters like the one that struck the city in 2006 as well recharge the stressed Bolson Hueco Aquifer, is expected to commence in January 2010.

Besides the Tijuana road paving contracted out to the Cemex Company, the NADB has agreed to finance a $22 million water and wastewater project for both the Baja California border city and Playas de Rosarito to the south.

The NADB has been especially active on the Mexican side of the border. In Nuevo Laredo, for instance, a $57.7 million wastewater treatment plant and system was inaugurated last week in a ceremony attended by Tamaulipas Governor Eugenio Hernandez Flores, Nuevo Laredo Mayor Ramon Garza Barrios and NADB Deputy Managing Director Hector Camacho.

The new wastewater treatment system is expected to reduce contamination of the Rio Grande shared by both Mexico and the US.

The San Antonio-based bank channeled $25.4 million for the project, including $20 million in grant funds from the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund, which is supported by funding from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The new wastewater treatment system is expected to reduce contamination of the Rio Grande shared by both Mexico and the US. Additionally, NADB is providing $84 million to Nuevo Laredo for storm water collection and street paving purposes.

“There’s always been a greater need in Mexico and the terms of loans are affordable in Mexico.”

“In addition to the obvious environmental benefits for Nuevo Laredo, these projects will also help from an economic development standpoint and strengthen competitiveness,” the NADB’s Hector Camacho said in a statement.

According to Flores, several factors are behind the surge in NADB funding in northern Mexico, including a greater willingness on the part of Mexican governments to take on debt, the availability of matching funds from the EPA and the Calderon administration’s drive to increase wastewater treatment capacity in the country.

“We’re more active in Mexico,” Flores said. “There’s always been a greater need in Mexico and the terms of loans are affordable in Mexico.”

NADB loans, which charge Mexican clients between 8.6 and 10.5 percent in interest, are less expensive than those offered by commercial banks south of the border, Flores said. Although the NADB rates would be considered high for US communities, which get lower interest rates from the bank because they are pegged to the US Treasury indexes, current bank interest rates for Mexico are “still good” for the country, he maintained.

In the entire border region, the NADB is helping fund 132 environmental infrastructure projects valued at $1.07 billion...

Back in the Paso del Norte borderland, NADB funding of nearly $23 million in grants from the EPA-sponsored Border Environment Infrastructure Fund is in the pipeline for four water quality and wastewater treatment projects in Dona Ana County, New Mexico. A project planned for the town of Anthony south of Las Cruces, New Mexico, includes arsenic removal.

In the entire border region, the NADB is helping fund 132 environmental infrastructure projects valued at $1.07 billion, according to a bank tally issued this month. In terms of the geographic breakdown of the projects, about 70 percent are situated in Mexico and 30 percent in the United States, according to Flores.

About Mr. Paterson
Kent Paterson Editor - A veteran journalist, Kent Paterson has covered the borderlands, Mexico and Latin America for more than two decades. A frequent contributor to Radio Bilingue and other public radio programs, his stories have appeared on hundreds of stations throughout the world. He has written for publications including Ecoamericas, New Mexico Business Weekly, Crosswinds, Pacific News Service, and more. Kent is the author of the award-winning book The Hot Empire of Chile, a history of the New Mexico chile pepper industry. Kent’s work has been recognized by numerous awards from the New Mexico Associated Press Broadcasters Association, New Mexico Press Women and the national Radio-Television News Directors Association. TBB

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© Copyright 2005 Texas Border Business (as it appeared in the December 2009 issue)

McAllen MSA makes top Forbes list

McAllen MSA makes top Forbes list
Action 4 News

With people trying to get the most for their money during this economic crisis, it looks like the Valley just might be the place to do that. Click Here to Watch Video

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rio Grande Valley better understood in Asia than in other parts

Patridge: Rio Grande Valley better understood in Asia than in other parts of Texas

Picture: McAllen Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Keith Patridge. (File photo: RGG/Joey Gomez)

McALLEN, Dec. 8 - Industrialists and political leaders in China, Japan and South Korea often know more about the Rio Grande Valley than those in Houston, Dallas or Austin.

That’s the view of McAllen Economic Development Corporation President and CEO Keith Patridge.

“Every time I go to Austin or Dallas or Houston I am struck by how little people know about the Rio Grande Valley. They know less than many people in China or Japan or Korea. They think they know about us but when you ask them when they were last here they will say, ‘oh, I was there 20 or 30 years ago.’ All they think is, we’ve got a bunch of orange trees down here,” Patridge said.

Patridge said the MEDC held seminars in Japan and South Korea just over a month ago. “There was a lot of interest and as a result several companies are looking at major investments in the Valley. I can tell you, they know where McAllen, Texas is. They know more about us than our brethren in Austin or north Texas,” Patridge said.

Patridge made his comments in a wide-ranging interview about economic development along the border with the Guardian and Ron Whitlock Reports, KVEO-TV’s flagship political talk show that airs every Sunday morning.

Patridge mentioned the lack of knowledge many Texas business and political leaders have about the Valley in response to a question about the importance of the Valley Legislator Tours that are hosted every two years by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership. Last week, the Partnership’s legendary President and CEO, Bill Summers, passed away and concern has been raised as to whether the tours will continue without him.

“The Valley Legislator Tours are vital,” Patridge said. “The big thing these legislative visits allow us to do is change the perception of, oh, the poor Rio Grande Valley. The perception that we do not have anything; that we have the worst education and the worst unemployment; that we are simply coming to Austin with our hat in our hand wanting money because we are poor.”

Patridge said Summers was a visionary with a pure heart.

“Bill did not want to show the legislators how poor we are. He wanted to show them how dynamic we are and how quickly we are growing. He would tell them, we do not need money to take care of problems; we need money to take care of growth,” Patridge said. “The Legislator Tours are really critical. I wish we could get them all down here.”

State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco, agreed. Like Patridge, Martinez said Summers was an impossible act to follow.

“I have thought long and hard about this and clearly we have to cultivate Bill’s vision and ideas. We have to keep the regional approach that he preached. We need to do everything we can to keep going what Bill has put together. We need someone to replace Bill who is aggressive but with a personality like Bill’s who can work with others,” Martinez said.

One of the ideas Summers proposed long before most economic development leaders in the Valley was the creation of a Valley-wide Metropolitan Statistical Area, or MSA. Patridge said he was working on a proposal to take that idea one stage further and create a NAFTA MSA that would combine key statistical information on McAllen and Reynosa, or Brownsville and Matamoros. Right now, the United States and Mexico only recognize the population on their respective sides of the border.

“Can you imagine taking Austin, Texas, and saying, you cannot consider anything south of Town Lake? The people in Austin would say you are nuts. That is what they are doing to us when they do not include the population in Reynosa,” Patridge said.

Patridge said he has spoken with staff in the offices of U.S. Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn and U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Henry Cuellar about his proposal. He said the response was favorable. He said he has also spoken to economic development officials in Arizona and California and they like the proposal too.

The vehicle through which the population statistics on both sides of the border could be obtained would be the North American Development Bank, which operates in both the U.S. and Mexico, Patridge said.

“NADBank is the perfect vehicle to fund the collection of that data. You would get a true snapshot of this region as an economic unit. We could then address ways of making sure this economic unit is successful,” Patridge said.

Patridge concluded by saying that, despite the recession, McAllen-Reynosa is on track to grow because of its central location and relatively low wage costs.

“Draw a line north of McAllen and you will find 80 percent of the people of the United States living east of that line. If you are producing products in Tijuana and your customers are 2,000 miles east and diesel is $5 a gallon, it just does not make sense. I believe McAllen-Reynosa is the Memphis of North America,” he said.

“Put it another way. Where else in the world do you have an instance where, on the north side you have the largest market in the world and on the south side some of the most competitive labor rates, $2.20 an hour, fully-fringed?”

Rio Grande Guardian

Ron Whitlock, of KVEO-TV's Ron Whitlock Reports, contributed to this story. The show airs every Sunday on Channel 23, immediately following Meet The Press.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Region Aims for Strategic Growth with Map Project

Region aims for strategic growth with map project
The Monitor
By: Jared Janes
Nov 29, 2009

UTPA is developing an inventory of the county’s assets for economic development.

Any good strategic plan is grounded in data, says Mike Blum, a commercial real estate broker.

But when the strategic plan is for economic development in a large and diverse county, putting the data together is a monumental task, he said. To get there, they must compile a hard detailed set of facts, figures and resources from wide ranging sources.

But once the data is put together, officials will have a better understanding of what the county needs as it
prepares its strategic plan.

“(The data) will display to everyone who wants to hear about it — we know who we are,” said Blum, a committee member who is helping to draft a list of the county’s assets. “This is what we’re made of.”

A team of eight University of Texas-Pan American researchers are finalizing an asset map they started in April as part of an economic development process.

Asset mapping identifies all the resources in a region, compares them to other areas and provides a base for strategic planning, said Michael Uhrbrock, the project manager who works in the university’s Division of Community Engagement.

The asset map gives community leaders a feel for what they’re working with as they draft a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, he said.

The development strategy acts as a guide to identify investment priorities and funding sources for the overall
economy or a general industry.

Hidalgo County is focusing on growth in the health care industry, including hospitals, research institutions and

The county judge’s office received a grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to develop the strategic plan, said Brian Kelsey, an Austin-based consultant who is acting as an adviser on the project.

But the critical part of the strategic plan is the asset map, which is essentially an inventory of everything that
can be used for economic development purposes.

Nobody has taken a comprehensive look at all the assets in the county and stored it in one place, Kelsey said. Available in a database format, the asset map serves as a one-stop source for all information about the county.

Asset mapping has been used elsewhere with success.

The closure of Maytag’s corporate headquarters and plant in Newton, Iowa, left more than 1,000 people in the city unemployed, he said. But the city had an asset map that showed the unemployed workers were in demand for industries of the future.

Two months after Maytag’s plant closed, a wind turbine manufacturer said it would produce its blades in the old Maytag facilities.

With Hidalgo County preparing an asset map, the county will be positioned to attract investment as it comes
out of the recession, Kelsey said.

“A lot of regions are finding strategic plans are much more successful when they start off with a base of
knowledge,” he said. “It’s what the asset mapping process is about.”

The county’s asset map will emphasize its ability to attract or grow its health care industry, said Fausto Meza,
an administrator at Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance and a member of the committee compiling the asset map.

The industry is among the fastest-growing in the nation with a direct impact on many others since all businesses need healthy employees, he said. The industry’s scope extends far beyond hospitals with medical
manufacturers and research institutions all in high demand.

The committee is looking at the county’s skilled labor force, the existing hospitals and places for care and other assets it has in health care. The asset map will help the county develop a plan to grow its health care industry, benefitting the community through jobs and better healthcare resources.

“We’re going to have a product at the end that we can use to make strategic decisions,” he said. “We won’t be able to intelligently do that without the research done first.”

Jared Janes covers Hidalgo County government, Edinburg and general assignments for The Monitor. He can be reached at (956) 683-4424.

McAllen bus terminal completes $1.7 million renovation

McAllen bus terminal completes $1.7 million renovation

McALLEN — McAllen’s Central Station is in the final stages of a $1.7 million renovation that Transit Director Elizabeth Suarez said will ease traffic congestion that often tied up city buses and cars along 15th Street.

Central Station — which averages 60 bus departures per day — moved its bus loading and unloading area from along 15th Street to a new drop-off location behind the station on Austin Street.

The drop-off location is separated by a gate and divided into two lanes for McAllen Express Transit (MET) bus traffic and passenger vehicle traffic.

Previously, city buses and cars mingled along 15th Street, sometimes backing onto Business 83, Suarez said. This new drop-off point will alleviate much of that traffic, she said, and will allow friends and family to drop off bus patrons to an area covered by new canopies.

“It’s protection for the weather and, for us down here, protection from the sun,” Suarez said. “The idea is if you’re waiting for your ride at 7:30 at night, you also have a safe place to sit.”

Traffic at the new drop-off point on Austin Street will be able to exit westbound onto 16th Street and circle the building if necessary. Before, that wasn’t an option.

Austin is a one-way street directed eastbound and, previously, taxi cabs lined the street behind the station. They would often merge at the intersection with city buses and passenger vehicles.

“Before, it was a bottleneck,” Suarez said. “It was a nightmare.”

Now, taxis line up along 15th Street and are generally out of the way of bus traffic.

“This renovation helps us,” Suarez said. “It was an expansion that was very eagerly anticipated.”

The city transit department began the renovations in January. The project came under budget — it was slated for $2.2 million — and 80 percent of the cost was reimbursed through a Federal Transit Administration grant.

The city is still putting the final touches on the renovation but decided to open up the new drop-off area last week because of the inclement weather.

Central Station has been a boon for the city’s downtown shopping district since opening in 2001 and averages about 3 million visitors per year. The station provides room for 14 private bus companies, in addition to MET buses and Rio Transit, the small Hidalgo County rural transportation system.

More than 15,000 people travel into Mexico from ...

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La Feria business to create 150 jobs

La Feria business to create 150 jobs
Sunday, December 06, 2009 6:52 PM
(Source: Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, Texas))By Allen Essex, Valley Morning Star, Harlingen, Texas

Dec. 6--LA FERIA -- A new Allied Waste Services Co. corporate office building and waste transfer station will bring 150 jobs to the city, company spokesman Brad Dugas said.

During a late Tuesday City Commission meeting, Dugas said construction of the facilities at 1800 Solis Road will take place during 2010 and 2011 and it will go into operation in late 2011.

Commissioners voted to approve a specific use permit for the facility after Dugas assured them that his company will build the facility and hire the number of people it is committed to employ under a grant program through the Texas Capital Fund.

Mayor Steve Brewer said the agreement with Allied to bring in 150 jobs and the opening of a new sewage treatment plant this week are very positive developments for the city.

Thirty-five acres of land will be purchased for the Allied project, City Manager Sunny Philip said.

La Feria will invest $600,000 to extend water and sewer lines and widen the road to the plant, Philip said.

That amount will be a 100 percent grant from the Texas Capital Fund, he said. The local matching amount will be Allied's investment of $10 million to $12 million, he said.

Allied will initially hire 120 workers and must hire 30 more people within three years after the plant goes into operation, the city manager said.

Dugas said his company is committed to completing the project and going into operation. If hiring goals are not met, his company must pay penalties under its agreement with the city and state, he said.

Dugas said the corporate offices in La Feria will oversee the company's business for the entire Rio Grande Valley.

Allied Waste and Browning-Ferris Industries are subsidiaries of Republic Services, Dugas said.

Philip said city officials celebrated the opening of a new sewage treatment facility and wildlife and nature park on Monday.

Texas Parks & Wildlife officials told city leaders that a nature park will be completed in four to five years at the site and will draw eco-tourists to La Feria, he said.

The new plant will be able to provide treated water for any future golf course or cooling water for any electric power plant that may be developed in the city, Philip said.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Edinburg breaks ground on new Boys & Girls Club

Edinburg breaks ground on new Boys & Girls Club

December 02, 2009 10:23 PM
Jared Janes
The Monitor

EDINBURG — Alba Escobedo credits the Boys & Girls Club of Edinburg with where she is today. Escobedo, 21, joined the club when she was 7. It kept her out of trouble while growing up in a neighborhood full of drugs and gangs, gave her scholarships to get through college at the University of Texas-Pan American and kept her in the area with a full-time job as a grants administrator.

“I wouldn’t be here without it,” she said Wednesday at a groundbreaking for the club’s expansive new facility. “Now there’s no limitations for what (younger club members) can do.”

City officials, community leaders and a busload of schoolchildren gathered Wednesday to break ground on an $11.4 million project that will be the face of the city for many drivers heading south on U.S. 281.

The 20-acre plot of land near the intersection of U.S. 281 and Rogers Road will soon feature a full outdoor park with athletic fields, playgrounds and a walking trail.

The interior of the 32,700-square-foot facility — twice as large as the club’s old one on South 18th Avenue — will feature all the traditional club spaces, including a game room, cafeteria and gym.

Mayor Richard Garcia also announced Wednesday that the Edinburg Economic Development Corp. and IDEA Academy are planning new locations nearby.

The muddy groundbreaking on a chilly afternoon will put the Edinburg club close to its goal of opening the new facility by November 2010, the club’s 40th anniversary, said Sabrina Walker, the chief professional officer for the nonprofit. Fundraisers are $500,000 shy of the initial goal they set when they kicked off the capital campaign five years ago.

The club is raising the last of the money by selling sponsorship of square feet in the building, which will serve over 16,000 youth.

The city of Edinburg has contributed $2 million to the project using proceeds left over from when it sold a city-owned hospital in the 1990s.

City Councilman Gene Espinoza said the municipality’s investment shows it wants to improve the quality of life of local residents.

The large park surrounding the club will be..

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

America's Best Bang-For-The-Buck Cities: McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX Metro Area Ranks 7th Out of 100

America's Best Bang-For-The-Buck Cities
Francesca Levy, 11.30.09, 06:00 PM EST

Solid housing markets, relatively stable employment, enviable cost of living and quick commutes make these metros among the country's most affordable to live.

1 - Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA Metro Area
2 - Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR Metro Area
3 - Jackson, MS Metro Area
4 - Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA Metro Area
5 - Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC Metro Area
6 - Wichita, KS Metro Area 
7 - McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX Metro Area
8 - Chattanooga, TN-GA Metro Area
9 - Colorado Springs, CO Metro Area

Click Here for Complete Article

Monday, November 30, 2009

San Juan enters second phase of downtown revitalization plan

San Juan enters second phase of downtown revitalization plan

City leaders hope more Basilica voters will “pray and stay”
November 28, 2009 7:09 PM
The Monitor
Nick Pipitone

SAN JUAN — The San Juan Economic Development Corp. kicked off phase two of a downtown revitalization plan Nov. 19 and will focus on public outreach over the next four months in crafting a “cohesive vision” for downtown San Juan.

City leaders said that by creating a pedestrian corridor to the downtown area near Nebraska Street and Business 83, they will be able to attract and retain more of the estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Mexican nationals and visitors who come to see the National Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle every week.

“Many visitors come via a charter bus so they don’t have a method or means for transportation,” corporation Executive Director Miki McCarthy said. “Our plan is geared toward giving them all the amenities they need for a full visit. They come and pray. We’d like them to pray and stay.”

The city spent $50,000 on a feasibility and infrastructure study in August and identified the infrastructure improvements needed downtown to accommodate future commercial growth.

McCarthy said new water and sewer lines, improved drainage and sidewalk improvements need to be addressed first.

“Once we accomplish those, then we’re talking about aesthetic improvements that would follow,” she said.

McCarthy said the city is envisioning lighting, water features, shaded areas and landscaping that would beatify the downtown area.

The city has invested $120,000 into this second phase of the project — the designing, planning and public outreach stages that will culminate into the creation of the city’s downtown revitalization plan.

The plan will lay out guidelines and regulations for downtown redevelopment, including new construction, building rehabilitation and sidewalk and street improvements.

During the four-month phase, the development corporation will host several forums for business owners and the community to attend in order to provide input for the plan.

At the forums, the city will showcase the different design options provided by civil and engineering firm Edminister, Hinshaw, Russ and Associates Inc., which the city hired as its primary consultant on the project.

“Are we going to preserve our historic structures? Will downtown have more of a Main Street-feel or will it be newer construction? These are all questions we’re considering,” McCarthy said.

She said there will one town hall meeting a month from January through April, and the city will begin advertising them with a billboard downtown and in store front windows in December.

City officials said San Juan residents will also benefit by having more entertainment options downtown—instead of having to leave the city.

“We’d hate to see (downtown) become an old ghost town. There are a lot of buildings that need to be remodeled,” Mayor Pedro Contreras said, using the abandoned San Juan Hotel as an example. “We’re hoping for a huge, positive change in our downtown, bringing in commercial businesses and creating a family environment.”

Along with the engineering firm, CDS Spillette is also consulting the city in the...

Full Story

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Peña: Santana Textiles manufacturing plant propels Edinburg into the global marketplace

Peña: Santana Textiles manufacturing plant propels Edinburg into the global marketplace

Picture: State Representative Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

EDINBURG, Nov. 25 - When state Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, was growing up he used to sell copies of the Edinburg Review on street corners.

Remembering back to those days he always thought of his hometown as a sleepy little college town, totally divorced from the hustle and bustle of big cities like Houston and Monterrey.

He now believes all that has changed and the realization that Edinburg is very much part of the global economy was reinforced this week when he participated in high level discussions in the Governor’s Office in Austin over plans to bring a state-of-the-art denim manufacturing plant owned by Brazil-based Santana Textiles to his city.

“We had an amazing series of meetings in Austin. The meetings were complex and sometimes technical and I came to realize just how much my community is affected by the global marketplace,” Peña said.

“The number of countries affected by this single enterprise is truly global. We will be using cotton from Texas. We will be exporting to markets all over the globe. We talked about China, Europe, Argentina. It really struck me that Edinburg is now in a global economy and we are no longer some provincial little town in deep South Texas.”

Gov. Rick Perry visited the University of Texas-Pan American in July 2008 to announce the state of Texas would be investing $1.65 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund to lure Santana Textiles to Edinburg. He said the $180 million manufacturing plant would employ 800 people when fully operational.

Many Edinburg residents have questioned whether the project would go ahead because since Perry’s announcement things appear to have gone cold, with little sign of construction.

Peña assured the Guardian that things are very much on track and that the series of meetings in the Governor’s Office on Monday were designed to put the finishing touches to the financial part of the project.

“The Santana project is on target. You have to remember that the world has changed since July 2008. So many of the variables have changed - the economy has changed, the markets have changed. And so, the general financing mix has had to be changed. All sides are making the necessary adjustments to bring this to fruition,” Peña said.

Peña said the Santana Textiles plant in Edinburg would change the complexion of the denim manufacturing market because of the revolutionary technology being installed by the company.

“They have a unique niche in the global marketplace because of the specialized technology they have,” Peña said. “But there is more to the story than just that. There is the aspect that this plant is being built in Texas using Texas cotton. We are affording them national security. It was mentioned in the meeting that we are in effect creating a reverse-maquila.”

Among those in the series of meetings were Santana representatives, Edinburg Mayor Richard Garcia, newly-appointed Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Texas Economic Development Bank CFO Michael Chrobak, Michael Bryant, an assistant general counsel in the Governor’s Office, and Jerry Haddican, from state Sen. Juan Hinojosa’s Austin office.

“I have to acknowledge the depth of knowledge Ramiro Garza has for this project,” Peña said. “I was very impressed with his presentation. He knows the project and all the financial aspects. This confirms to me that he was a great pick for city manager.”

Garza was heavily involved in bringing Santana to Edinburg in his previous capacity as executive director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

Peña acknowledged the meetings in the Governor’s Office were complex and technical at times. “We discussed production details, global economics, market share, labor costs, transportation costs, economic stability. It was really absorbing,” he said.

The City of Edinburg now has a population of 71,520, a 48 percent increase on the 2000 Census count. If current trends continue and an accurate count is taken in the 2010 Census, Edinburg could have a population of 78,000 in 2010. If the same growth pattern continues, the city could have a population of 100,000 by 2015.

These statistics reinforce Peña’s observation that the Edinburg of old has gone forever.

“I come from a little town where I used to sell newspapers on the streets. Back then we really were incubated from Houston and Monterrey. I realize we are now in the thick of it. It is amazing,” he said. He said a major reason things have changed is the growth in trade between Texas and Mexico.

“This is the unique thing about South Texas. We are like the finger that dips deep into Mexico. We are bicultural. We are bilingual. The discussions we had in the Governor’s Office were in Spanish and in English and many of the many Anglos in the room spoke Spanish,” Peña said.

“It was very apparent to me that we...

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

La Sienna Elementary in Edinburg, TX to Open In Time For the 2010-2011 School Year

School district mapping out boundaries for new campuses
The Edinburg Review

ECISD has unveiled its boundaries for its four new elementary schools, which will open in time for the 2010-2011 school year.

As of Monday, the maps are about 90 percent complete and have yet to go before the school board, but take into account the schools created from the bond program started in 2008.

Proposed maps for the new junior high schools and high schools will be released next year, according to sistrict officials. The announcement was made at superintendent Dr. Ren�© Gutierrez’s District Parents’ Round Table meeting last week to discuss a variety of current and future issues impacting schools in Edinburg.

“Parents say ‘does my child have to move’ and the answer is ‘yes’,” Gutierrez told parents at the round table. “We have to abide by the zones and respect the boundaries.

The four new schools, which are currently named after their specific locations are called Rooth/Russell in northwest Edinburg, La Sienna in the northeast, Cano-Gonzalez sister school located southeast, and Alberta/Sugar in the south.

Each school is designed to accommodate 650 students, and will serve to alleviate crowding at some campuses, which have been hit hard with increasing numbers of new students. The Rooth campus for example will draw some of the 770 children currently attending Magee Elementary in time for the 2010-2011 school year. Magee is slated to open with about 500 students when the new campus starts next year. There are currently more than 32,000 total students in the district, half of those are elementary students.

The district has grown by 9,235 students over the last 10 years and school officials predict the student population will be about 42,000 by the 2015-2016 school year.

All of the new schools are located in mostly outlying communities of the district, which spans 945 square miles. Student numbers in schools located in town will not be impacted, according to the district.

“Does it make a difference? Well my child is not going to go to a school with 800 kids. That’s too many at the elementary level. Avila, Monte Cristo and Villarreal ... all of them have 800 kids right now,” said Mario Salinas, assistant superintendent for district ddministration. Salinas, who along with the district’s transportation department and a committee of nine principals, was responsible for putting the maps together. Each map ultimately has to be presented to the board for approval.

According to Salinas, criteria used to move the boundary lines was based on several factors: a neighborhood concept, school population, and those outlying schools which were impacted the most.

“The one thing that I want to emphasize is that we’re not done,” Salinas said. “We’re still working on it, we’re still taking recommendations from the parents. We are still going to run this by the principals to see if they have ideas better than what we have.

To account for growth, ECISD officials say there are at least 11 projects at a cost of $111 million scheduled to be online within the next three to four years. Three new Fine Arts facilities will be added to each of Edinburg’s three high schools at a cost of $6.2 million each. Renovations to the Brewster campus are also slated to be complete by next year with a cost still to be determined, according to the district.

Two new middle schools and an additional elementary school are slated for completion by the 2011-2012 school year. A new high school to be located at the current Harwell facility will open by 2012-2013.

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX MSA's Listed in America's Fastest-Recovering Cities by Forbes.com

When Forbes.com list of America's Fastest-Recovering Cities is ranked by Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) or Gross Regional Product (GRP) the McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX MSA's rank #1.

Gross Metropolitan Product (GMP) is one of several measures of the size of the economy of a metropolitan area. Similar to gross domestic product (GDP), GMP is defined as the market value of all final goods and services produced within a metropolitan area in a given period of time.

Full List: America's Fastest-Recovering Cities by Forbes.com

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Monday, November 23, 2009

Feature Article by Mike Blum & Richard Moore: Timing Is Everything...How to Maximize Returns and Minimize Risks

With the national economy still trying to find firmness, many are trying to figure out how to regain a lost footing from a 40% decline in their 401K or other investment portfolios. People holding real estate ask: “do I sell now in a down market or do I hold and hope things will regain their value in a few years”?

On the other hand, investors with capital look for a really good deal…perhaps below market.

It appears that owner/sellers and investor/buyers may have a common objective: Maximize returns, minimize risk. Or put more simply: Making money in real estate is all about timing. The big question is: When is it the right time to buy or when to sell?

Historically, the time to buy and the time to sell were solely dependent on the market value of property. When the value reaches a target value, the investor sells, makes his profits and moves on. Today, there is an added variable which must be considered when deciding to sell; Capital Gains Taxes.

Right now, capital gains taxes are calculated on 15% of the gain. Investors have enjoyed this tax rate since 2003; however, this is about to end. Without any new legislation from Washington, this rate will increase to 20% in 2011. There are indications that the White House is interested in raising rates higher than the 20%, and possibly as high as the highest tax rate. The ordinary tax rate is scheduled to return to the old 39.6%, but this rate is also under consideration by the current administration in Washington.

Therefore, the likelihood of a significant increase in the capital gain tax rate makes selling appreciated property sooner than later a smart move. So what does this mean?

Well hypothetically, if the capital gain rates moves from 15% to say 30%, a property which has doubled in value will have to fetch nearly 11% more for the sales price to return the same net after tax profit to the seller. This additional 11% will only keep the owner/seller in the same place as they are now before the tax rates go up. The problem will be more severe if the capital gain rates go higher than 30%.

So if you are an owner/seller, now may be a good time to think about liquidating property that has appreciated while the tax rates are relatively low. Capital gain tax rates will not stay at this rate for much longer. If you own open land or occupied buildings and are thinking about holding in anticipation of a higher price when the economy turns or if you have capital and are not adverse to paying less and getting more, it may be advisable to consult your financial professional and realtor to analyze your situation and plan the best course of action.

If you would like to learn more about your options contact Richard Moore at 956-630-3053 richard@cpamoore.com or Mike Blum at 956-994-8900 mikeb@nairgv.com.

Richard Moore is a CPA and owner of Richard Moore and Company. Richard is a recognize expert in his field. Michael J. Blum is a Partner and Managing Broker for NAI Rio Grande Valley, an affiliate of NAI Global one of the world's leading providers of commercial real estate services.
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IDEA Schools will have two new sites in the Rio Grande Valley in 2010

IDEA Schools will have two new sites in 2010

>> Visit http://www.ideapublicschools.org/ or call (956) 377-8000.

PHARR — Pharr and Alamo will have each an IDEA school open in time for next school year, officials announced Friday.

Both campuses will open in August 2010 starting with kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades. Additional grade levels will be added each year.

In 2006, IDEA Public Schools began an ambitious expansion plan to open 22 new schools across the Rio Grande Valley by 2012. Today, the school system has 12 campuses from Mission to Brownsville, not including the two announced Friday.

IDEA schools are tuition-free and open to all students. All schools are accepting applications for the 2010-11 academic year. Existing campuses are located in the cities of Donna, Brownsville, McAllen/Edinburg, Mission, San Benito and San Juan.

IDEA Public Schools operates a system of public charter schools that focus on college readiness.

In 2009, IDEA College Preparatory in Donna was named the...
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Friday, November 20, 2009

Mexican shoppers made for flood of sales receipts last weekend in McAllen

Mexican shoppers made for flood of sales receipts last weekend in McAllen
November 20, 2009 12:05 AM
The Monitor
Sean Gaffney

McALLEN — While city workers hung holiday lights along the streets, downtown McAllen’s retailers wondered if last week’s rush was a prelude to a jolly season.

Mexican shoppers flooded the McAllen area the weekend of Nov. 14 and 15, clogging bridges and thronging shops. Shopkeepers said sales were at Christmastime highs. With a weak peso and economic malaise threatening to hamper holiday spending, they wonder if it was just a tease.

“Right now, it’s still slow,” said Jesus Medelez, an employee at Fashion 25 near the downtown parking garage. “It was very different two years ago.”

When the economy fell apart and the peso lost value, fewer Mexican nationals crossed bridges and those that did spent less. Losing customers who normally spend at least $1.1 billion in Cameron and Hidalgo counties each year crippled sales at area retailers.

Bridge traffic fell and had been on a slow and steady decline since. At the end of September, traffic was down about 10 percent from a year before, said George Ramon, director of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.

More than 15,000 vehicles crossed the Hidalgo bridge, up from an average of 11,500 vehicles in recent weeks.

“I was trying to remember the last time I saw that number. It wasn’t at all this year,” Ramon said. “Merchant and hotel owners and operators should be very pleased as well … those are near Christmas rush holiday numbers.”

Two years ago, about 10 Mexican pesos were worth one American dollar. Now, one American dollar costs 13 pesos. It’s a little better than last November, but still means that Mexican nationals have far less buying power.

Last week, sales spiked at Jakybon Accessories, but owner Juany Garza does not think the blues are over. She doesn’t expect the economy to recover for another year so she’s keeping inventory lean at 1424 Beaumont Ave.

She doesn’t want a repeat of last season, when after Christmas her store was crowded with unsold jewelry and beads.

“I have a lot of problems paying employees and paying the bills,” Garza said.

But with the recession well into a second year, Garza and owners like her said they’ve learned to adjust both their expectations and their costs.

Eli Lizka, owner of Colors Name Brand Clothing, saved money switching phone and electric companies. He’s run sales and he’s cut his inventory at 114 S. Main St.

Last weekend his sales were tremendous, but he didn’t know...

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