Friday, October 30, 2009

City of McAllen Creating Jobs

City of McAllen Creating Jobs
Action 4 News
McAllen city leaders say their community is thriving, creating jobs... Click Here to View Action 4 News Full Report

Mercedes-Benz dealership to open in San Juan in mid-2010

Mercedes-Benz dealership to open in San Juan in mid-2010

Picture: San Juan Economic Development Corporation Executive Director Miki McCarthy stands behind Bill Bird, left, Alfonso Cavazos, center, and Ronn Heller at a news conference Thursday at the Basilica Cafe to announce that a Mercedes-Benz dealership will be built in San Juan.

SAN JUAN — City officials and leaders on Thursday announced the arrival of a new Mercedes-Benz dealership in San Juan, hailing the mid-2010 opening of the luxury car vendor as part of the city’s continued economic maturation and expansion.

Mercedes-Benz of San Juan will begin construction on a 30,000-square-foot dealership in December on the north side of Expressway 83 east of Farm-to-Market Road 1426. The owners are projecting $15 million in annual sales, which would generate an estimated $50,000 in local sales taxes each year, city officials said.

The new business will also create 20 full-time jobs paying hourly wages of more than $14, said Bobby Rodriguez, board president of the San Juan Economic Development Corp.

“We’ve been praying and praying as a community to make that transition,” Mayor Pedro Contreras said at a news conference at the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine. “For many years our city has been looked upon as a bedroom community, but we’re slowly but surely making that transition into also being considered a city with businesses.”

Mercedes-Benz initially sent owners Ron Heller, Bill Bird and Alfonso Cavazos to McAllen nine months ago to look at the city as a possible location for a new dealership in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. But Heller and Bird — who own a dealership just north of San Antonio in Boerne — liked the location available in San Juan near Expressway 83, and they began to develop a relationship with this city’s economic development corporation.

The duo said their dealership in Boerne did a lot of business with Valley residents who made the drive north, despite there being another Mercedes-Benz dealership in Harlingen. The automaker has been looking to open another branch in the Valley for the past few years because of that demand.

Mercedes-Benz of San Juan will join several other luxury car dealerships in the Lower Valley, most of them in McAllen. Despite the region’s low income level, Bird said there is also “a lot of wealth” in the area to support another luxury dealership.

He and Heller opened their Boerne dealership in 2004 and have since expanded from 27 employees to nearly 100 while selling about 1,800 cars annually.

“We really expect to see the same amount of growth in San Juan,” Heller said. “We know that it’s one of the 20 fastest-growing areas in the country.”

Mayor Pro Tem Lupe Rodriguez remembers visiting Boerne several years ago before the dealership opened, when it was a “very small community” similar to San Juan. He had to drive down a dirt road to get to a golf course in town where he played.

“Go see Boerne now and Boerne is booming,” he said.

Lupe Rodriguez thinks the new dealership, along with the opening of a new Bank of America branch, will help San Juan make the same transition and attract more high-end retailers to the city.

“We had a very aggressive economic development plan when we ran for office, and this is the fruits of our labor,” City Commissioner Armando Garza said.

Garza said economic development like the new dealership will help the city gain more business from many of the wealthy Mexican nationals who come to the city to visit the Basilica of Our Lady of San Juan del Valle-National Shrine.

The easy access to the dealership from Expressway 83 will also bring in customers from throughout the region and its bigger population centers, like McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen, he said.

“You’ve got low-income subdivisions all in this area,” Lupe Rodriguez said, referring to the neighborhood surrounding the basilica. “But hopefully that’ll change.”

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Census: McAllen(Texas) most multilingual city in U.S.

Census: McAllen(Texas) most multilingual city in U.S.
Posted on Tuesday, October 27, 2009 6:11:52 PM by SwinneySwitch

CBS News is reporting that McAllen is the most multilingual city in the United States, according to the latest census data.

The Census Bureau Tuesday released its American Community Survey results, which charts a range of social, economic and housing data in U.S. metropolitan areas.

CBS reported that the running survey, which is different from the traditional once-a-decade census, tracks three years worth of data.

The latest figures cover 2006 to 2008. Among the findings:

McAllen, Texas has the highest percentage of people age 5 and older who speak a language other than English at home - 84.2 percent while Charleston, West Virginia has the lowest - 1.8 percent.

El Paso, Texas is the only other metro area with more than three-quarters of its population speaking another language.

• The Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area ranks first in foreign-born citizens with 36.9 percent. Altoona, Pa., ranks last with just 0.9 percent.

Only two other areas top 30 percent - San Jose, Calif., and Los Angeles.

• San Jose, Calif., boasts the highest median home values - $739,700 - while Odessa, Texas ranks last with $68,200. California dominates the country in this category.

While San Jose is the only metro area to top the $700,000 median value, the six others that exceed $600,000 - Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Salinas, Napa, Santa Barbara and Oxnard - are all in the Sunshine State.

• Provo-Orem, Utah and Laredo, Texas share the top spot for largest average household with 3.5 people. Ocean City, N.J., ranks last with 2.0 people per household.

• New Yorkers have the longest commute to work, checking in at 34.5 minutes, followed closely by Washington, D.C., at 33.2 minutes.

Residents in Grand Forks, N.D., have the shortest commute and live in the only metro area with an average commute time under 15 minutes.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

McAllen Ranks 12th Among 40 Strongest U.S. Metro Economies

McAllen Ranks 12th Among 40 Strongest U.S. Metro Economies
Business Week

"The fastest-growing and affordable McAllen area is about 10 miles from the Mexican border. Employment in the McAllen metro peaked in the third quarter of last year. Gross metropolitan product peaked in the second quarter. Home prices grew 0.6 percent in the second quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. And the unemployment rate in June was 11%, up 3.4 points from a year earlier."

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Rene Ramirez appointed interim Hidalgo County Judge

Rene Ramirez appointed interim Hidalgo County Judge

Rio Grnade Cuardian

By Joey Gomez
EDINBURG, Oct. 27 - Hidalgo County Commissioners Court has appointed Rene Ramirez, chief of staff to state Sen. Juan Hinojosa, as interim County Judge.

Ramirez takes over from J.D. Salinas, who resigned Monday in readiness to take up a position Region 7 Administrator with the General Services Administration.

"I am deeply honored. I take this position very seriously," Ramirez told the Guardian, in a phone interview.

Once he is sworn into office, Ramirez will be head of county government in the sixth largest county in Texas until January, 2001. Asked what his main attributes for the job are, Ramirez said: "I have an understanding of government both on a state and federal level and am able to communicate with people. I want to continue the good work of Judge Salinas."

Salinas was on the dais at Commissioners Court on Tuesday afternoon, even though he handed in his resignation Monday. Salinas participated in the vote for his temporary successor.

Salinas, along with County Commissioners Tito Palacios, Oscar Garza and Sylvia Handy voted for Ramirez. County Commissioner Joey Flores did not. Handy later rescinded her vote saying she thought she was voting for Rene Ramirez, the Pharr attorney.

Earlier in the day, McAllen attorney Rick Schell was unsuccessful in his bid to get an injunction against Commissioners Court taking a vote today. Schell filed the injunction in state District Judge Noe Gonzalez’s District 370 Court in Hidalgo County on behalf of Weslaco resident Servanto Herraro.

Schell did not believe Salinas had the authority to participate in the vote having already resigned.

“Judge Gonzalez denied the injunction on pretty technical legal arguments,” Schell told the Guardian via a text message.

The Guardian will have more on this developing story later today.

Texas Retail Roundtable with NAI Rio Grande Valley's Mike Blum: Cover Story for Texas Real Estate Business Oct. 2009 Issue

Texas Real Estate Business
Cover Story October 2009
Compiled by Lindsey W. Marcec

Picture: Mike Blum partner and managing broker with NAI Rio Grande Valley

Retail real estate professionals from across the state discuss the industry’s performance this year and what they foresee for 2010 and 2011. Full Article

West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley
From Amarillo, El Paso, Lubbock and McAllen, respectively, the following professionals participated in the roundtable discussion: J. Gaut, president, J. Gaut & Associates; Bob Ayoub, president of MIMCO, Inc.; Wesley Hallmark, senior investment advisor for Sperry Van Ness
Hallmark & Assoc., Inc.; and Michael Blum, partner and managing broker with NAI Rio Grande Valley.

TREB: What is the current state of retail activity in your market?

Blum: New leasing has slowed considerably in the Rio Grande Valley since the economic downturn. Access to capital for tenant finish-out has created a huge impediment to entry. Landlords with pre-existing facilities did not have funds in their budgets to cover unanticipated TI costs not covered by lenders.

TREB: What leasing or development trends have surfaced during the downturn?

Blum: Overall, the trend is not much leasing. It seems the most interest in retail leasing is in the food business. Both locals and chains are still looking for quality sites. This has been a very strong market for restaurants and we expect this trend to continue.

TREB: Have any major developments come on line this year?

Blum: No new projects have surfaced and not much is planned for the balance of 2009. Most major developments are in a holding pattern.

TREB: Which types of retail product are doing the best?

Blum: Neighborhood is doing best.

TREB: Have any major retailers entered or exited your market?

Blum: The third Best Buy opened this year at Palms Crossing. Ashley Furniture opened its first Valley store this year, and Rooms To Go and Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen are both under construction with their first Valley stores. Buffalo Wild Wings is under construction with its second McAllen store. Several CVS/pharmacy stores have opened this year. Mervyns, Circuit City, Linens ‘n Things have closed their doors. Other retail is very slow.

TREB: What is vacancy like? Are rental rates holding steady?

Blum: We don’t have a current update; however, we are seeing more vacancy in well-leased strip centers and slow to no growth in existing centers with shell space. Rental rates range from $12 to $21, depending on the location.

TREB: How is the second half of the year performing compared to the first half?

Blum: For the Rio Grande Valley, the second half has been worse.

TREB: Do you believe things will turn around in your market in 2010?

Blum: Unless the financial markets ease up, tenants are going to struggle trying to find dollars for their improvements. Landlords are going to have a tough time leasing space unless they have funds to finance TIs.

Click Here to View Full Article

Updated: Salinas hands in his resignation as Hidalgo County Judge

Updated: Salinas hands in his resignation as Hidalgo County Judge
Photo: J.D. Salinas submitted his resignation as Hidalgo County Judge on Monday, effective immediately. (File photo: RGG/Steve Taylor)

EDINBURG, Oct. 26 - Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas has handed in his resignation, effective immediately, according to a letter posted on the county’s Web site.

The letter, dated Oct. 26, was sent to County Clerk Arturo Guajardo by Salinas. Guajarado’s office has a date and time stamp on the letter of 1.33 p.m., Oct. 26.

The letter states:

Dear Mr. Guajardo,

I hereby resign as County Judge of Hidalgo County, effective immediately. As you know, I will soon assume the office of Regional Administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration. I resign in anticipation of my induction into that office.

It has been my distinct honor to server the people of Hidalgo County first as their County Clerk and then as County Judge. I appreciate their support, and look forward to serving them in my new capacity as well.
Thank you.

J.D. Salinas III.
CC: Commissioners Court

Salinas could not be reached for comment on Monday. Annette C. Muñiz, chief deputy with the County Clerk's office confirmed to the Guardian that Salinas tendered his resignation on Monday afternoon. Salinas will present his resignation at County Commissioner's Court on Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m.

An addendum agenda for Tuesday’s regular Commissioners Court meeting that has been posted on the County’s Web site has Salinas’ letter of resignation as an attachment. Click here to read the agenda. The agenda states that Commissioners Court will take up the matter of an interim county judge on Tuesday.

At a news conference on Friday, Salinas said he would stay on as county judge for a couple of weeks to ensure a smooth transition while a interim judge is selected.

Although Salinas has resigned, effective immediately, he will still be able to participate in the vote for an interim county judge. The law provides that the county judge, even after resigning, can vote on his/her successor. The vacancy, from a legal perspective, exists until the next person takes the oath.

There has been speculation that County Commissioners Joe Flores and Sylvia Handy would like to see former County Judge Ramon Garcia installed as interim county judge. Garcia has already announced he is running for county judge in next year’s elections. If elected, Garcia would take over the helm of the sixth largest county in Texas in January 2011.

There has been speculation that the other two County Commissioners, Tito Palacios and Oscar Garza, would like to see Rene Ramirez, chief of staff to state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, installed as interim county judge. With Salinas still able to cast a vote, Ramirez looks favorite to succeed him, albeit in a temporary capacity.

Former Hidalgo County Democratic Party Chair Bobby Guerra told the Guardian last week that he would be honored to serve as county judge for the interim.

Unconfirmed reports over the weekend had Palacios coming under pressure to go with Garcia as interim county judge. Palacios’ brother, Pharr Mayor Polo Palacios, has endorsed Garcia for county judge.

The White House announced Friday that Salinas would start as administrator for Region 7 at the GSA on Nov. 9. Region 7 covers the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It is headquartered out of Fort Worth.

The General Services Administration is the federal agency that looks after federal property. According to the GSA’s Web site, the agency’s mission statement is to leverage the buying power of the federal government to acquire best value for taxpayers and its federal customers. “We exercise responsible asset management. We deliver superior workplaces, quality acquisition services, and expert business solutions. We develop innovative and effective management policies,” the statement says.

In the past, Hidalgo County Republican Party Chairman Hollis Rutledge has been a regional director of the GSA. Serving under the first President Bush, Rutledge looked after 11 states. He was senior executive services administrator and manager of GSA Region 7 for three and a half years.

Salinas is a graduate of La Joya High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Texas Pan American. Salinas was elected Hidalgo County Clerk in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. In 2004, he was Texas County Clerk of the Year by his peers. Before winning elected office, Salinas was chief South Texas liaison to former State Comptroller John Sharp.

The Texas Border Coalition issued a statement on Monday praising the Obama Administration for selecting Salinas as GSA administrator for Region 7.

Editor's Note: This story has been amended from the first edition to reflect new information about who might vote for interim county judge.

Salinas' first gig as GSA administrator will be TBC conference in Laredo

Salinas' first gig as GSA administrator will be TBC conference in Laredo

EDINBURG, Oct. 24 - J.D. Salinas says his first official engagement as administrator for Region 7 at the General Services Administration will be a Texas Border Coalition conference in Laredo on Nov. 13.

Salinas made the announcement at a news conference called Friday afternoon to confirm he was stepping down as Hidalgo County Judge to accept a post in the Obama Administration. He starts work for the federal government on Nov. 9.

“It’s a great honor to have been asked to serve. I accept with pleasure and with great hopes for fulfilling the agency’s vision of achieving excellence in business of government,” Salinas said.

The Texas Border Coalition’s conference is titled ‘Balancing Security, Trade and Travel: A Looming Crisis at U.S. Ports of Entry.’ It takes place at Laredo Community College on Nov. 13.

As Region 7 Administrator, Salinas will, among many other things, oversee the procurement and supervision of federal resources for some of the nation’s busiest inland ports of entry. Region 7 covers the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. It is headquartered out of Fort Worth.

As the title of the TBC conference implies, Texas border mayors are particularly concerned that ports of entry are not receiving the funding levels necessary to keep up with growth in international trade. About 80 percent of U.S. trade with Mexico goes through Texas ports. Bottlenecks at the ports are hampering international commerce, the lifeblood of border communities, Texas border mayors have long argued.

“I’m sure I will listen to a lot of the mayors there about some of the things… about how they feel,” Salinas said, referring to the TBC’s upcoming conference.

Salinas speculated that the White House may have factored in the fast growing border region when making their decision to appoint him a regional GSA administrator.

“I’m glad they recognized that it takes someone from here to know the area. The southwest border is growing fast. I grew up here and I know the area well,” he said.

Salinas said his appointment to the GSA would not have been possible without the strong support of U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, and Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi. In April, they secured the endorsement of the Texas congressional delegation to recommend Salinas to the White House. “I say thank you, thank you, thank you,” Salinas said, referencing the three South Texas congressmen.

Salinas looked a little tired at the news conference. He acknowledged it was a “bittersweet” moment to be leaving Hidalgo County government to take up the GSA post. He first went to work at the county courthouse as an administrative assistant to the county judge in 1991. At age 29 he was elected county clerk in 1998 and in 2004was honored by his peers as Texas County Clerk of the Year. More than once at the press conference, Salinas called county employees his “family.”

“It’s a bittersweet moment in my life personally and my wife Janie and the kids but my father always said, ‘you’ve got to minimize missed opportunities’,” Salinas said. “I am really honored that the White House selected me and my family to serve in this capacity. I think it is a voice for South Texas and a good opportunity for us to be directly involved in the policy making of some of the decisions that get made federally.”

Salinas thanked his colleagues on Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court for their work on many “extraordinary projects” that have benefited not just the county but South Texas generally. He said millions of dollars have been secured for first responder vehicles, economic development planning, disaster relief, new trails and ‘green’ projects.

Salinas noted that the Prescription Discount Card that the county kicked off last year has helped save half a million dollars for local residents, particularly those who struggle to buy medicines because of a lack of insurance.

Salinas said the region was closer to getting an interstate quality highway after the county helped secure $115 million for removing bottlenecks along U.S. 281. He also predicted economic prosperity would flow from the decision to fund the Education First project because employers would have a more talented workforce. The recent formation of the Rio South Texas Economic Council would also help, Salinas said. A regional alliance of 18 stakeholders across the four-county Valley region, the RSTEC plans to market the region nationally and internationally to help attract new investment.

One of the most controversial projects in Hidalgo County while Salinas has been county judge has been the construction of a series of concrete levee walls. If the levees had not been fixed the county would have been at great risk of the Rio Grande flooding in the aftermath of a hurricane or tropical storm. FEMA was threatening to issue new maps showing the county in a flood zone. As well as deterring new investment, designating much of the county as flood prone would have resulted in much higher flood insurance for residents and businesses.

Over the years the federal government had been allocating small amounts of money to the International Boundary and Water Commission to fix the levees. At the rate the money was coming in, the IBWC would have taken decades to rehabilitate the levees. Salinas and the county commissioners took a bold step. They agreed to enter into an agreement with the Bush Administration to speed up repair of the levees through construction of concrete walls, which satisfied the Department of Homeland Security’s push to erect stronger border barriers to deter illegal immigration and drug smuggling. The agreement required Hidalgo County to spend millions of local tax dollars that was to have gone towards drainage repairs. The county is still waiting for Congress to reimburse it.

“I’m proud to have also worked and accomplished on the levee barrier rehabilitation project by forming an historic partnership with local, state and federal leaders,” Salinas said of the project. “We get over $300 million of funding to fix the levees, avoid a border fence; protect residents from the threat of flooding and (having) to pay mandatory flood insurance.”

Salinas pointed out that the Texas Association of Counties recently awarded Hidalgo County a Best Practices Award for the innovative way it had secured funding for the levee-wall project and the speed at which the project got moving. The county received two Best Practices awards from the TAC during Salinas’ time as county judge. It had never previously been honored in this way.

The business community in particular was pleased with the way the levees were repaired so quickly. Last December, McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius presented Salinas with the Chamber’s Teddy Roosevelt Award. “Twenty five years from now, people are going to say thank goodness people had enough foresight today to fix the levees,” Ahlenius said, at a luncheon honoring Salinas.

Environmentalists and some landowners are less happy with the levee-wall project. Eloisa Tamez, a landowner in Cameron County, said of Salinas’ appointment to the GSA: “So after we give land away to the federal government, we can get a position to look over federal land. Not bad.”

Salinas said he would continue to serve as county judge for the next few weeks, during which time he and county commissioners will appoint an interim county judge. Voters will elect a new county judge next year. That person will assume responsibilities in January 2011.

When Salinas defeated incumbent County Judge Ramon Garcia in 2006 he argued that the position required full-time attention. He made the same point at Friday’s press conference, stating that a “full time” county judge was needed to ensure that the county budget is balanced and every county department gets the resources it needs.

“I am confident great things will continue to happen in Hidalgo County, especially if you continue with a full-time county judge,” Salinas said.

Asked by a reporter about that comment, Salinas said: “I’m not going to lie to you. This office took a lot of time. But it was very, very, enjoyable and educational.”


J.D. Salinas gets GSA post in Obama Administration

J.D. Salinas gets GSA post in Obama Administration
Rio Grande Guardian

EDINBURG, Oct. 23 - Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas will be officially appointed to the Obama Administration later today, the Guardian can confirm.

Salinas is going to be named Administrator for Region 7 with the U.S. General Services Administration by the White House. Region 7 covers the states of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. Its main office is in Fort Worth.

Confirmation came from two sources close to the Administration and one close to the Hidalgo County administration. All three wished to remain nameless.

Salinas refused to comment when contacted by the Guardian on Thursday. Speculation was mounting that an announcement about the appointment was imminent. The appointment means he will have to tender his resignation as county judge.

Salinas' chief of staff, Rigo Villarreal contacted the Guardian Friday to say Salinas has yet to hear anything from the White House.

Details about Salinas’ request to be considered for the GSA post were first revealed in the Guardian in May. U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, wrote a letter to the White House recommending Salinas for the GSA post. U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, also pushed hard to get Salinas the job.

“The General Services Agency is one of the most important agencies in government, and I’m honored that they submitted my name to the White House,” Salinas told the Guardian at the time.

“Right now I sit as county judge and if the president does call on me to serve then I will answer the call. Otherwise I am the fulltime county judge and I look forward to doing that.”

Asked what he thought about Ortiz recommending him, Salinas said he was humbled.

“I’m honored for Congressman Ortiz to say that and I am honored that he submitted my name. But, right now, I am not putting as much thought into it because the White House has not called me, even though I expected that from them when my name was submitted,” Salinas said.

“If President Obama calls for me to serve my country I will, in whatever capacity, but for now I serve as judge of Hidalgo County.”

Salinas has said he is running for re-election but has yet to hold a campaign kickoff.

The General Services Administration is the federal agency that looks after federal property. According to the GSA’s Web site, the agency’s mission statement is to leverage the buying power of the federal government to acquire best value for taxpayers and its federal customers. “We exercise responsible asset management. We deliver superior workplaces, quality acquisition services, and expert business solutions. We develop innovative and effective management policies,” the statement says.

In the past, Hidalgo County Republican Party Chairman Hollis Rutledge has been a regional director of the GSA. Serving under the first President Bush, Rutledge looked after 11 states. He was senior executive services administrator and manager of GSA Region 7 for three and a half years.

Salinas is a graduate of La Joya High School. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Texas Pan American. Salinas was elected Hidalgo County Clerk in 1998 and re-elected in 2002. In 2004, he was Texas County Clerk of the Year by his peers. Before winning elected office, Salinas was chief South Texas liaison to former State Comptroller John Sharp.

Salinas' appointment to the GSA position puts to and end rumors that he might run for Congress against U.S. Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, in District 15 in 2010.

By taking the GSA position, Salinas will tender his resignation as county judge and an interim county judge would have to be appointed by Commissioners Court. The interim county judge would serve until the winner of the 2010 election takes office in January 2011.

Among those being mentioned as a potential interim county judge are attorney Ramon Garcia, whom Salinas defeated in 2006, attorney Bobby Guerra and Rene Ramirez, chief of staff to state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Garcia has announced he is running for county judge and has issued a list of endorsements featuring the names of over 100 elected officials. Guerra has said he would be “honored” to serve as an interim county judge but will not run for the post.
Click here to read the official biography of Juan de Dios “J.D.” Salinas III.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

US Courier & Logistics expands in the Rio Grande Valley

US Courier & Logistics expands in downturn
Dallas Business Journal

US Courier & Logistics on Friday opened four full-service branches in Waco, Corpus Christi, the Rio Grande Valley and East Texas, expanding the company's coverage to new areas of the state.

With the new branches, the company has added another 10 percent of the state’s population to its total courier and delivery services coverage area, which now reaches 85 percent of the state’s population.

The cost to open all four branches was about $250,000, said the company, which has hired 28 new employees.

John DiTucci, vice president of US Courier & Logistics Operations, said he suspects the logistics industry is close to a turning point in the down economy.

“We have positioned ourselves to weather the slowdown and are now poised to handle the imminent recovery,” said DiTucci. “We at US Courier & Logistics are encouraged with our recent business growth and the opportunities which have prompted expansion into these new markets. We are very optimistic about the rebound in the Texas economy and continue to plan for the long-term growth and future of the company.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Video: Increasing business in a recession is the goal of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation

Increasing business in a recession is the goal of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation with a strategy that they claim will create jobs here in the Valley.

Action 4 News

IBWC awards $20.9 million Valley levee contract to Ballenger Construction

IBWC awards $20.9 million Valley levee contract to Ballenger Construction
Picture: Bill Ruth, U.S. commissioner at the IBWC, is slated to speak to members of the IBWC's Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum in Mercedes on Wednesday.

MERCEDES, Oct. 19 - The U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has awarded a construction contract worth $20.9 million for rehabilitation of Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project levees.

The announcement was made just two days before the IBWC’s Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum meets in Mercedes.

The contract has gone to Ballenger Construction Company of Harlingen to construct 48 miles of levee improvements along the North Floodway and Arroyo Colorado in Hidalgo and Cameron counties. In accordance with the contract, Ballenger Construction Company will furnish all labor, materials, and equipment for the levee construction.

In a statement, IBWC said the work will provide enhanced flood protection for the communities of Weslaco, Mercedes, La Villa, and La Feria.

The funding comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Recovery Act includes $220 million for USIBWC levee projects. IBWC expects to award all its federal stimulus dollars for construction contracts in the Valley by the end of 2009. Construction should be complete by the end of 2010.

IBWC said it is raising the levee height and making structural improvements to bring the levee into compliance with standards established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the 100-year flood. Construction is expected to be completed by September 2010. Construction contracts were previously awarded for the Banker North Floodway and the Main Floodway.

The Recovery Act funding has enabled IBWC to accelerate work on its aging Rio Grande flood control system in Texas and New Mexico to provide adequate flood protection for over three million U.S. residents. Before the stimulus money became available, Congress was only providing about $20 million a year for Valley levee rehabilitation work.

When the federal stimulus dollars for the Valley levee projects were first announced last May, local elected officials said the projects would create nearly 5,000 jobs and $508 million in economic impact.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, along with Hidalgo County officials held a news conference to celebrate the start of a $110 million injection of stimulus funds to complete more than 100 miles of levee restoration on the border.

“This project is a sweeping, bold, and decisive step that will create jobs right away and strengthen the economy in the Rio Grande Valley for years to come. Nearly 5,000 jobs to be created as a result of the levee construction, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is living up to what it was intended to do – to stimulate the economy,” Cuellar said.

“This historical and unprecedented infusion of federal dollars to the Rio Grande Valley is an indication of the great working relationships between local, state, and federal governments.

Cuellar said that once fully operational, the levees will protect life and property. “You provide security to our community by business community and others knowing that the levees will protect them from flooding,” he said.

Another additional benefit, Cuellar said, is the saving of millions, maybe even billions of dollars, over a period of time in insurance premiums.

The event took place at the Birding Center Nature Park located on the grounds of the historic Hidalgo Pump House.

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data & Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement.

Salinas said the study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when complete, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact.

“The infusion of federal funds and the fusion of our ideas have made Hidalgo County a better place all around,” Salinas said. “This levee project saves lives, protects property and, may well be considered the ultimate stimulus package for our county. In this time of stress and hardship, this is some good news that uplifts our community to know that we are helping to create jobs and keep the economy strong.”

The next meeting of IBWC’s Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum takes place on Wednesday at the IBWC’s Mercedes office from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. At the meeting, engineer Larry Voice and flood insurance specialist Linda Delamare from FEMA’s regional office in Denton, Texas will discuss the current effort to update Flood Insurance Rate Maps. The maps will be used to determine flood risk, applicable flood insurance requirements, and flood insurance rates for property owners.

Prior to the FEMA presentation, IBWC U.S. Commissioner Bill Ruth will make brief remarks to welcome new Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum board members. Ruth appointed new board members in September. This is the first meeting of the newboard.

At the same meeting, IBWC Public Affairs Officer Sally Spener will give an overview of Commission responsibilities and will review the duties of the Lower Rio Grande Citizens Forum Board. IBWC Area Operations Manager Rodolfo Montero will present nformation about the Commission’s current activities in the Valley, including operation and maintenance of the Lower Rio Grande Flood Control Project, work on the Morillo Drain salinity control project, and operation of diversion dams.

IBWC provides regular public updates on its planning and spending of Recovery Act funds at An updated project schedule is available at

Click Here to visit Rio Grande Guardian

Monday, October 19, 2009

Oberstar's whirlwind tour of Cameron County a big success, say officials

Oberstar's whirlwind tour of Cameron County a big success, say officials
Rio Grande Guardian
Picture: U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, (left) visits the 'Mexican side' of the border wall at Hope Park in Brownsville.

BROWNSVILLE, Oct. 19 - Local political leaders say a whirlwind tour of Cameron County by a key U.S. House committee chairman will produce tremendous short and long term benefits for the area.

U.S. Rep. James Oberstar, chairman of House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, paid his first visit to the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday, as a guest of U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi.

“It was a brilliant day for Cameron County,” said Cameron County Commissioner David Garza. “Chairman Oberstar was totally impressed by the partnerships we have with our friends in Mexico and by the important projects we are working on. We told him we are not waiting for handouts. Rather we are getting things done with public and private partnerships.”

Oberstar, D-Minnesota, landed in Harlingen just before 11 a.m. on Sunday morning. Over the next 12 hours he visited the Port of Brownsville, the Fun N Sun RV Resort in San Benito, the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport, the Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates, the West Railroad Project, the downtown Brownsville Levee Project and observed construction of the border fence at Hope Park in Brownsville, the Cameron County floodway system, the Bahia Grande wetland restoration project, and the potential site of the second causeway. Ortiz and the Cameron County leaders even found time to throw a fundraiser for Oberstar at the Sea Ranch Restaurant on South Padre Island.

Possibly the most important aspect of the tour, given that Oberstar chairs the transportation committee, was discussion on funding for I-69.

“Our meeting on I-69 was most productive. We discussed our application for Tiger grants,” Garza said. “Many people do not realize that Chairman Oberstar was in Congress as a committee clerk before he entered Congress so he has been involved in transportation issues for 40 years. This gentleman was a working encyclopedia in terms of information on the interstate system and the politics on why some areas of the country do not have interstate.”

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos emphasized the need for an interstate and the need to bring more jobs and infrastructure to the area. “We have four modes of transportation in Cameron County – highway, rail, maritime and air – and we need to take advantage of that,” Cascos told Oberstar.

Ortiz said Oberstar’s visit will unquestionably boost Cameron County’s chances of obtaining federal funding for transportation and infrastructure-related projects.

“Chairman Oberstar was kind enough to join us in South Texas this weekend so he could hear first-hand from community, county and state representatives about the needs of our community,” Ortiz said. “I am thankful he was able to join us as we visited some of the most important on-going and future projects that are in need of funding or reauthorizations.”

Garza said because the border wall is not finished in Hope Park, Oberstar was able to go around to the “Mexican side” of the fence. “It is one of those things where you are either in jail or out of jail,” Garza said.

Garza said there was also discussion about Cameron County’s growth projections. In 2000 the Census Bureau said the county’s population was around 330,000. Garza said he believes the 2010 Census Bureau figures will show the county’s population to be more than 400,000. “Chairman Oberstar told us that if you wait for things to happen in Congress you can wait 40 or 50 years. He told us to be proactive and was, I think, very impressed with our vision,” Garza said.

David Allex, chair of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, pointed out the urgency of addressing projected growth patterns over the next 20 to 30 years. “In the year 2040 the population in our area will be in excess of seven to ten million. We need to start working to address mobility, congestion and economic development for the benefit of future generations today not tomorrow,” Allex said..

Garza said he liked the phrase Ortiz coined at the dinner for Oberstar. “Congressman Ortiz said we are sitting on a goldmine in Cameron County and that all we need are the tools to get it out of the ground and use it. I agree with that. My phrase is: ‘the stars are aligned.”

Among those who visited with Oberstar on the tour were Garza, Cascos, Allex, TxDOT Pharr District Engineer Mario Jorge, Port of Brownsville CEO Eduardo A. Campirano, Port of Brownsville Chair Carlos Masso, Port of Brownsville Commissioner Ralph Cowen, and Cameron County Bridge Director Pete Sepulveda, Jr.

Oberstar said he was impressed with everyone and everything he saw on the whirlwind tour.

“Today, community leaders in South Texas reaffirmed to me the needs this community has,” Oberstar said. “This community is rich in culture and history, and I will do all I can to help the continued growth and development of this area.”

Write Steve Taylor

Sunday, October 18, 2009

In Case You Missed It…

In Case You Missed It…
The Westside Story
Published 10/17/2009 - 12:23 a.m.

CST AUSTIN – and Moody’s Economy have announced that the Austin-Round Rock, Brownsville-Harlingen, Dallas-Plano-Irving, El Paso, Lubbock, McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr and San Antonio areas are among the first in the nation to move from recession into recovery, indicating that their economies have grown over the past six months.

The announcement is based on MSNBC and Moody’s Adversity Index, which uses data on employment, industrial production, housing starts and home prices to place each state or metro area in one of four categories: expanding, at risk of recession, in recession or recovering. This is the first month this year that any U.S. metro area has moved from in recession into recovery.

Additionally, CNN Money has ranked Texas as one of the Top Five Best States to Launch a Business thanks to our reasonable tax structure and incentive funds such as the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. The article also credited the franchise tax exemption, passed at Gov. Perry’s direction during the 81st Legislative Session, with fostering growth in small businesses in the state. Texas is the only large state to be ranked.

To view the MSNBC and Moody’s ranking, please visit

To view CNN Money’s ranking, please visit

Friday, October 16, 2009

McAllen ranked one of the best places to launch a business

McAllen ranked one of the best places to launch a business
McAllen Economic Development Corporation Blog
October 15th, 2009

According to a CNN Money report, the McAllen MSA is one of the best small to medium metro areas to launch a small business. McAllen was ranked among the top 25 metro areas for fastest small business growth. McAllen was also ranked 16th among the best places to launch a small business for 2009. Read the full report here.

Good news for entrepreneurs and investors looking for a new market to enter. This announcement comes just prior to the Rio South Texas Small Business Summit. This event, sponsored by the Governor’s Office for Small Business Advocacy, will provide current and future small business owners to network with potential clients and engage in a variety of seminars. The event will be Thursday, Oct. 22 at the McAllen Convention Center.

There is still time to register- click here to register for this event.

Manpower: McAllen one of the best for employment

Manpower: McAllen one of the best for employment
McAllen Economic Development Corporation Blog
October 16th, 2009

Manpower recently has ranked the McAllen MSA (McAllen, Edinburg, Mission) as one of the strongest areas for employment growth during 4th quarter 2009. From the companies that Manpower surveyed, responses indicate that there could be as much as a net employment outlook of an additional 10-percent.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Meet-and-greet connects local businesses with big corporations

Meet-and-greet connects local businesses with big corporations

October 15, 2009 7:30 AM

Sean Gaffney
The Monitor

McALLEN — Abel Garcia emerged triumphant from a small classroom Wednesday afternoon, one step closer to landing a lucrative contract to recycle plastics for a big-time maquiladora.

For local suppliers like McAllen-based 3gm Extrusion, where Garcia is managing director, finding work with manufacturers in Reynosa is often frustrating and sometimes impossible. Top corporate executives who make decisions are usually unwilling to open the door to relative unknowns.

But Wednesday, at a meet-and-greet organized by the McAllen Economic Development Corp., Garcia skipped several rungs on the corporate ladder and snagged a chance to pitch his firm’s services to the leadership of Minneapolis-based Pentair a mere 24 hours later. All that remained was to prove to the maker of water circulation and filtration products that 3gm could recycle plastics for Pentair’s three maquilas.

“The hardest part for us is to get to the decision-makers. Going up the ladder from the bottom to the top doesn’t work,” Garcia said. “Cold calling — you’re not getting anyone on the phone or getting a call back.”

Nearly 20 suppliers tried to woo Pentair executives at South Texas College’s Technology Campus on Wednesday. The company is trying to trim costs by using local suppliers.

Officials from the economic development corporation and STC organized the event, which they said could help add jobs on both sides of the border.

“The disconnect we have is when a company moves to a region with opportunities to expand but doesn’t have the local connections,” said Gerald Stinson, manager of the National Institute for Metalwork Skills program at STC. “We introduce them to our small businesses.”

A wide downturn in manufacturing assailed Reynosa’s maquilas in 2008, leading to broad job losses and an overall slowdown in production. At the same time, many companies have tried to cut costs by consolidating U.S. factories at their Reynosa counterparts, taking away U.S. jobs but boosting employment across the border.

Local experts hope that when manufacturing recovers to pre-recession levels, Reynosa’s maquilas will employ more laborers and make more products than they did before the economic freefall.

Pentair, which makes pumps for Coca-Cola soda fountains and pool accessories and an array of other products, has cut hundreds of jobs at its maquilas. But the company also shut down three plants in the U.S. and moved the production to Reynosa, boosting employment and offsetting much of the job loss, said Alba Nelly Peña, Mexico sourcing manager for the company.

Moving the operations to Reynosa cut the company’s production costs by 11 percent. Using local suppliers, the company expected to cut an additional 10 percent. It expects to add another maquila soon.

“We’ve been doing (local) sourcing for the last 15 years,” Peña said. “Pretty much now, everything you’re looking for is in Mexico (or along the border.)”

MEDC aims to connect local suppliers; increase business in challenging economic times

MEDC aims to connect local suppliers; increase business in challenging economic times

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009
Texas Border Business

In an effort to drive business locally and build connections within the supply chain, more than 20 supplier companies from throughout the Upper Valley and Northern Mexico will meet with representatives from Pentair on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009 from 8 am to 5 pm. Pentair is a global water systems and technology provider with more than 15,000 employees in 20 countries.

Pentair already has three divisions in Reynosa and continues to be successful in this market. As Pentair seeks to reduce costs, company officials hope to localize its supply base by using services and ordering commodities from companies within a 24-hour delivery radius. Time slots filled within two weeks as local companies try to find new business opportunities during a time when manufacturing has slowed around the world.

This innovative event, sponsored by the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and South Texas College, is a first-time event in which potential suppliers have the one-on-one networking opportunity with a specific company. South Texas College officials hope this will provide students with a glimpse of the McAllen/Reynosa manufacturing sector and provide networking opportunities for future job seekers.

The event will be held the STC Technical Campus at the intersection of Military Highway and Ware Road on Wednesday, Oct. 14, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Representatives from Pentair, along with suppliers and officials from the McAllen Economic Development Corp, the Reynosa Association of Maquiladoras and Manufacturers and South Texas College will be available to interview.

Monday, October 12, 2009

MIKE BLUM: McAllen Managed by Common Sense Principles | Rio South Texas

BLUM: McAllen Managed by Common Sense Principles

Texas Border Business
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Picture: L-R: Laura Warren, President of McAllen Rotary Club south, Mike Blum, Managing Broker with NAI Rio Grande Valley

“We’ve got our struggles; things are not perfect, but compared to other places in the country the Valley is doing pretty well,” Mike Blum, Partner and Managing broker for NAI-RGV stated during a presentation at the McAllen Rotary Club south.

He also said that the employment losses in the nation will increase during October or November to 10 percent. “Manufacturing employment dropped to the lowest that it has been in years.” He added. Unemployment rate nationally in August was 9.7 percent so indicated his power point presentation.

In long term unemployment, the number of people unemployed 27 weeks or more is 24.9 million in the nation. “Those aren’t really great facts, but they are the facts.” he said. He also pointed out that locally there has been a good change in the unemployment rates. He reminded club members that a few years ago the unemployment rate for Hidalgo County was 18 percent. “So 11 percent is good under the circumstances,” he stated. He added that McAllen’s unemployment is 7.4 percent. The combined figures for unemployment in Hidalgo and Cameron Counties totaled 11.5 percent.

He said those figures are only a little bit worse than the national stats. He went on to say that in the building permits things are a lot different. In 2006, Hidalgo County registered 6,400 single family permits issued; in 2007 it dropped to 4,800 permits and in 2008 to 2,900 permits. “Huge drop off in single family home permits,” Blum stated.

According to him, McAllen is different due to community and business leaders that have made amazing decisions since 100 years ago. He added that McAllen has had a treasure chest of people of all walks of life and all economic stages that adopted a philosophy and a shared vision as well as a common sense set of guiding principles. “Those principles were: if it is good for business and good for the city, they did it,” he said.

Chronologically Blum pointed out that over a period of 100 years up to now; city leaders have made important decisions that have been great for the city. Back in the early days, during McAllen‘s infancy, the city fathers invited the military to establish a military base called College Heights, off of Houston and Bicentennial. “If you ride through that neighborhood you can see the circular layout and the street pattern like any army base in the United States.

During the early sixties the city bought the privately owned bridge Hidalgo/Reynosa and the rest is history he said. They created foreign trade zone number 12, becoming the first to be inland. “This was a radical departure from normal concepts of foreign trade zones,” he explained.

And in 1979, this city sold the rights to provide health care in the former McAllen General Hospital to the Private Sector. The city got out of this industry when it was the right time to do it. “Thirty years later look at our medical community south and north McAllen or south of Edinburg,” he stated. Blum said that all that happened in the last three decades.

He went to say that the City leaders also invested in education. The city had a site for a future hospital and they made it available to the newly created Texas State Technical College (TSTC) from Harlingen and created a branch in McAllen. He said that they continue to invest in education by the creation of South Texas Community College, which is now South Texas College. “This is an amazing story in itself, they have grown from 600 students to more than 27,000 in a short period of time,” he said.

They also expanded McAllen Miller Airport and now it is about to go through a new expansion. He said it is not a McAllen airport but a regional airport. The city also acquired La Quinta Mazatlan, an old house on a big hill and not only renovated it but created a world birding center and they turned it into a true world class destination for people who come to McAllen.

They acquired land to build a new convention center and they did it with cash, no debt. The city sold land to SIMON to build the Palms Crossing Shopping Center, which made it possible to build the convention center.

He said that on the horizon there is another project, to build an automobile manufacturing plant in the McAllen area. “This is still a deal in process, but it is closer than you can imagine,” he said. According to Blum, these are examples that set the stage for McAllen to be the progressive location that it has become. TBB

New Companies Moving to Edinburg Renaissance Industrial Park this Year | Rio South Texas

New companies moving to Edinburg Renaissance Industrial Park this year
By Ramiro Garza, Jr.
Texas Border Business
Picture of Ramiro Garza, Jr. Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation

The local economy continues to be one of the strongest in the nation through the second quarter of 2009 according to MetroMonitor report by the Brookings Institution.

In fact, the Mcallen-Edinburg-Mission MSA was the only metro that gained jobs in both the first quarter second quarters of this year.

The MetroMonitor report also showed that this MSA was one of three that surpassed their pre-recession peak output by the second quarter of 2009.

While economic activity is down overall compared to previous years, it is good to see these types of reports confirming that this area continues to be in a relatively strong position as we move forward out of this global downturn of the economy.

The key to sustaining this momentum is continuing to maximize our comparative advantage which is our proximity to the Mexican border and coastal area.

And we are doing just that in Edinburg. While we continue to promote ourselves to clusters of industries tied to trade activity from manufacturing to logistics, we are doing that not only in the USA but in Mexico as well.

Most recently, we have had as many leads come out of Mexico as we have from anywhere else. Out of these leads, we have recruited two small manufacturing companies from Mexico to our Renaissance Industrial Park this year.

One is a candy manufacturer called Dulces Ravi from Monterrey, N.L. The other is Muller coating company from Satillo, Coahilia.

The reason these companies are interested to locate here is because they are already exporting to the USA and are looking to have their produce their product here and distributed to penetrate the Hispanic market in the USA.

In working with these foreign companies, we have found that our area has many advantages for them aside from simply serving as a distribution point.

Aside from the economic stability, these companies have found that utility costs are less expensive and they are in a better position to explore different markets in the USA to be able to grow their business.

Many of these companies have been identified by our trade office in Monterrey, N.L. This office serves as a first point of contact when foreign companies are exploring expansions into the USA.

This office in Mexico promotes Edinburg in trade shows and networking events including site visits to companies with growth potential.

It’s a new trend we’re seeing emerging of Mexican manufacturers locating here which is a reverse concept of the trend that we’re familiar with of American companies locating in Mexico.

To us, it’s about maximizing this comparative advantage of our location to bring about new opportunities to facilitate future growth.

Ramiro Garza is the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. He is a Texas Border Business guest writer.

McAllen, TX Recognized as Community of the Year

McAllen recognized as Community of the Year
McAllen Economic Development Corporation Blog Post
October 12, 2009

The Texas Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized McAllen, TX as the “Community of the Year.” Planning department staff, along with city planning commissioners, headed to Galveston to receive the prominent award and to attend the annual TXAPA state conference.

In 2008, McAllen received recognition from TXAPA for Foresight McAllen, the city’s long-term comprehensive plan. Also, Sonia Falcon, chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, was named Commission of the Year by TXAPA.

In photo (L-R): Xavier Cervantes, Neighborhood Planner; Julianne Rankin, McAllen Planning Director; Israel Juarez, Neighborhood Planner l; Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, Planning & Zoning Commissioner; and Miguel Martinez, Planner l.

Visit the MEDC Blog

Advanced Manufacturing Talent Pipeline Runs Through Rio South Texas Region

Advanced Manufacturing Talent Pipeline Runs Through Rio South Texas Region
October 12, 2009

MCALLEN, Texas--(BUSINESS WIRE)--The first step in creating a world class advanced manufacturing region starts with creating a talent pipeline. That pipeline is flowing through the Rio South Texas region thanks to the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research and Education Initiative.

“We’re developing human capital to form the talent pipeline,” explains Wanda Garza of South Texas College, who serves as executive officer for NAAMREI, a network that stretches across seven Mexican border counties.

The region’s community colleges, universities, public schools and other education entities are developing a talent network focused on advanced manufacturing. More than 60 private and public sector groups form the NAAMREI alliance, which includes economic development corporations, manufacturers, workforce agencies, and city and county governments.

“We see ourselves as a world leader in rapid response manufacturing,” Garza said, adding that the goal is to dramatically increase the manufacturing base that already exists in the region.

By “rapid response,” Garza means speeding up the time it takes to turn ideas into finished products. The focus is to help companies develop next-generation products for aerospace, automotive, industrial, medical, consumer electronics and other key markets.

Keith Patridge, CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, says NAAMREI is helping area manufacturing companies compete in the global arena.

More manufacturing opportunities mean more jobs for the region, says Patridge, which leads back to the need for a skilled workforce.

South Texas College’s Technology Campus, located in the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone, houses the NAAMREI headquarters. For the past nine years, STC has worked with area manufactures to provide workforce training in precision manufacturing, welding and other needed trades.

The Rapid Response Manufacturing Center at The University of Texas-Pan American is another education component. The center provides services and expertise in research, development and demonstration; education; and innovation and technology based entrepreneurship and business incubation.

NAAMREI’s talent pipeline doesn’t stop at the Mexican border. Talent also comes from neighboring border cities and other parts of Mexico.

Future plans include a research park for the region. The network approach has helped regional partners leverage $22 million in start up funds, including a $5 million U.S. Department of Labor WIRED grant and a $3 million Texas Workforce Commission Skills Development grant.

For more information, contact Wanda Garza,, 956-872-2770; or visit

Exciting Plans in Edinburg! A New Medical Conference Center and UTPA's Renovations to their Fine Arts Facility

Exciting Plans in Edinburg! A New Medical Conference Center and UTPA's Renovations to their Fine Arts Facility

Exclusive: UTPA announces new plans for fine arts facility

By Joey Gomez
Rio Grande Guardian

EDINBURG, Oct. 9 - Plans to build a standalone fine arts facility at the University of Texas-Pan American have been scrapped, according to university officials.

Earlier this week UTPA officials revealed that, instead, the university will renovate its current fine arts complex, possibly by late 2012 or early 2013. A market feasibility study previously conducted by UTPA found that the $40 million allocated to the university does not cover the cost of a proposed standalone facility.

“We are going to do a major renovation, the building will be completely gutted and it will have new mechanical systems, new acoustical systems, new lighting, and everything will be brand new,” said Marianella Franklin, UTPA’s director for sustainability programs who has been overseeing the project.

“We are really hoping we can increase the capacity as well. Based on the programming that we did, we are going to have a wonderful facility.”

Appeals by UTPA to key legislators in Austin failed during the 81st legislative session, when the university requested an increase of the total funds allocated for a new fine arts facility to $70 million. Franklin said the status of the current economy factored into the decision to renovate the current facility instead. The total cost of the facility is still not determined.

“We were looking at the possibility of having $70 million to build the new facility. We would have had to request additional monies or to do a campaign for additional funding and we opted, (differently) because of what is happening with the economy,” Franklin said. “We are very conscious of it, our solution is basically put our monies into the existing facilities and renovate it completely.”

Holzman Moss, the architecture firm selected to renovate the current facility, specializes in the design of fine arts facilities, according to Franklin. The firm designed the current Radio City Music Hall, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and closer to home designed the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Performing Arts Center among many others.

Design and schematics for the renovation project at UTPA are expected within the next six to eight months, Franklin said. “The students are doing such wonderful job and they are in need of a facility,” she said. “This is an old facility, and if you take a look at all the facilities, we have over 51 buildings and of course we try to address the needs of our faculty and staff and most importantly our students.”

At least one more facility is planned in Edinburg by next year. In August, the City Council approved a development agreement between the city and Doctors Hospital at Renaissance to have the upcoming Edinburg Medical Conference Center operational within 18 months.

The 54,000 square foot medical conference center would generate about 293 jobs in the Rio Grande Valley. The facility would be comprised of a 552 seat conference room, a 620 seat capacity ballroom, and an 800 square foot state of the art auditorium that could be the home to the Rio Grande Valley Symphony Orchestra or ballet performances. A proposed hotel is also slated for construction at the facility.

DHR first unveiled its plans to the city for the proposed Medical Conference Center at a presentation by the Warren Group, principal architect of the facility on June 16.

At the meeting architects emphasized that the facility would provide a venue to the medical community to inform the Rio Grande Valley of medical resources and procedures available in the area. It would also support health awareness programs in a state of the art medical campus, and enhance medical education programs by partnering with local universities and colleges.

Franklin said UTPA’s market feasibility study intended to make sure that whatever venue selected by the university was not one that was going to compete with any other facility. A recent meeting between UTPA and DHR assured that there would be no competition between the two, Franklin said.

“This is a completely separate facility. We did not want to compete with the Dodge Arena, we have no intentions of competing with the (McAllen) Convention Center and we have no intentions of competing with this particular conference center or performing center that they will have at DHR,” Franklin said.

“We did meet with all the entities to make sure that at any time there would be no type of threat of competition with anyone. The meeting with the group from DHR took place not to long ago and it is for a separate purpose or function so by no means would we be competing in any form or fashion.”

Link to Rio Grande Guardian

Hilton resort to open in 2010 in South Padre Island, South TX | Rio Grande Valley

SPI Hilton resort to open in 2010

Antonio Vindell/Special to the Island Breeze
Link to Article 

Sometimes in the spring of 2010, visitors will be greeted by the newest hotel in this island resort on the Mexican Gulf that still has not fully recovered from the 2008 hurricane season.

The Hilton Garden Inn Beach Resort is set to add 156 rooms to the local lodging industry, giving vacationers another hotel choice.

The new facility is the first major full-service hotel and conference center to be built here within he last 30 years, Island officials said.

Dan Quandt, the executive director with the South Padre Island Convention & Visitors Bureau,described the hotel as a nice addition for the Island .

"For many years, we have had four major hotels here," he said, "So this is going to be the first conference hotel to be built here in quite a while."

The four hotels he was referring to the Isla Grande Beach Resort, the Sheraton, the Bahia Mar and the South Padre Beach Resort, formerly known as the Holiday Inn.

Quandt said only the Isla Grand and the Sheraton are up and running, while the two other have been closed since late July 2008 when Hurricane Dolly slammed into the Island.

"The reality is that we really need to think about the ones we lost," he said. "Those two hotels might never get back on the market."

While the Bahia Mar is getting a major face lift and it could open as early as March 2010, nothing has been done to the old Holiday Inn.

The new hotel, under construction across from the South Padre Island Convention Centre, is another project of Barry Patel, an entrepreneur who already operates the Best Western La Copa Beach Resort and La Quinta Beach Resort here.

The Hilton Garden Inn is going to be a fourstory,156-unit hotel equipped with a large meeting room that could be divided into three rooms. Patel could not be reached for comment, but a company spokesman said the hotel is scheduled to open in late February or in early March. "It's going to have 156 rooms," he said, "and more than 8,000 square feet of meeting rooms." The hotel is being constructed just outside the Town of South Padre Island limits, James Mitchim, the town's building department official said.

A building permit was issued by the Cameron County transportation department office in San Benito.

Although the 156 rooms will not quite make up for the nearly 400 rooms the Islands lost to Hurricane Dolly, but they will come in handy for visitors coming here in 2010.

Quandt said the Island has about 4,000 lodging rooms and added the Hilton Garden Inn is going to be a big plus for the Island.

"We are really excited that we are getting a new hotel," he said. "The Hilton Garden Inn is going to be our next full-service hotel."

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Valley Benefits from NAFTA

Valley Benefits from NAFTA
By Rafael Carranza
Action 4 News |

Tuesday, October 06, 2009 at 7:06 p.m.

Despite a severe recession in both countries, thousands of trucks will cross the U.S./Mexico border using one of the 10 functioning bridges in the Rio Grande Valley.

The trucks transport a variety of goods between both countries and Canada under the North American Free Trade Association, better known as NAFTA.

Gilberto Salinas is the vice president for the Brownsville Economic Development Council. He said the Valley has largely benefited from NAFTA, tripling in size and business in more than a decade. "The Rio Grande Valley, were doing ok, and ok is good right now,” he said. “If NAFTA was not here right now, if we did not have NAFTA we could be doing a lot worse." According to Salinas, the Valley has seen a 1 to 2 percent decline in business. He said the number of jobs lost is in the hundreds, what he referred to as a small number looking at the bigger picture.

The BDEC said they have noticed that for every job created in the Valley, seven are created in Mexico. But similarly...for everyone job that is lost on this side, seven jobs are lost across the border.  But for the everyday person, Salinas said the biggest impact NAFTA will have on them is in their wallets. "NAFTA has helped in reducing prices for the regular consumer."To him the bottom line is that NAFTA can only help the valley grow out of the recession and move forward.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Knowledge Center: Learn Which Factors Are Crucial in Office Space Decisions

What Office Tenants Want

Despite the fluctuating economy and current design trends, two factors remain constant when tenants select office space: cost and location. But in today's market, other factors also influence the decision-making process. From turnkey buildouts to shorter lease terms to adaptive work space, office tenants want flexibility, functionality, and responsiveness.

Tenants also want value, and a down market is a good place to find it. Due to the abundance of office space in most markets and many companies' consolidation of their employees into fewer square feet, most tenants today are spending less for their space, says Barry Spizer, CCIM, principal of SRSA Commercial Real Estate in Metairie, La. An exception is small tenants that have less negotiating leverage, so their costs can be somewhat higher, he says.

In today's environment, offering the best financial deal is no longer enough to secure tenants, since many “are more than willing to spend the money in order gain operating efficiencies,” says Gregory C. Hobbs, CCIM, owner of Olympic Properties in Raleigh, N.C. Instead, landlords need to educate tenants (and potential tenants) about the space's footprint, the potential costs over and above the lease price, and other factors that help them “make the best decision they can make,” says Kimberly Surratt, a senior project designer at Dallas-based WorkPlaceUSA.

On the other hand, knowing what tenants are looking for helps landlords anticipate their needs and keep space filled. “Landlords working hardest to stay informed are the ones who will keep cash flow high,” says Norman G. Marquardson, CCIM, an agent with Prime Commercial in Midvale, Utah.

Ready for Change “Flexibility seems to be the key word for the offices of the future because businesses are changing so fast,” says Michael Orr, architectural team leader and vice president of WorkPlaceUSA. Tenants view their companies as growing organisms, and they don't want spaces that inhibit growth. They prefer facilities that can be adjusted to fit their current and future business needs, from movable walls to buildouts.

“Landlords should remember to market their space as flexible,” Spizer says. Even if furniture already is in place, landlords should provide space-planning services to show how offices can be configured to meet tenants' needs, he says. Computer-aided drawings make it easy to generate space plans that illustrate how the new space will look and feel.

In today's market, “Tenants dictate exactly what they want,” and they are willing to pay for it if they have to, Marquardson says. Overall, improvement costs are going up. “Many owners are pushing those costs through to the tenant as part of their buildout cost,” Spizer says. “While allowances are increasing due to the competitive economics of office deals, tenants are still having to come out-of-pocket and pay for a portion of the buildout or at least amortize it on top of their rent.”

But tenant expectations vary from market to market. In Knoxville, Tenn., more tenants expect landlords to provide turnkey offices for new leases so they don't incur any out-of-pocket improvement costs, says Louise R. Fogarty, CCIM, CPM, leasing manager for Blue Ridge Development. “This is a more common concession than offering free rent or a reduction in the rental rate,” she notes. “Tenant improvement allowances are usually in the $12 per square foot to $20 psf range, but a turnkey buildout can average $22 psf to $32 psf depending on the level of finishes, so this can be a significant concession.”

No matter how the space is configured and who pays for improvements, leases should be as flexible as possible. Tenants are cautious about making long-term leasing decisions, especially until the economy stabilizes. They want “the flexibility to cancel or downsize, even if they have to pay a penalty to do so,” Fogarty says.