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...

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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

When 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

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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 or Mike Blum at 956-994-8900

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 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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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mobility authority gives Garza incentive to build border trade corridor

Mobility authority gives Garza incentive to build border trade corridor
November 15, 2009 3:17 PM
Jared Janes
The Monitor

A number of potential projects await new Regional Mobility Authority executive director Godfrey Garza as he starts work this week on his consulting contract.

He’ll need to finish environmental clearance for the full Hidalgo County loop; the mobility authority wants to discuss ways to bring the long-awaited La Joya bypass to fruition and Garza himself is interested in developing a rail strategy for the region. But first thing’s first.

Garza’s top priority is funding an executable finance plan for the Hidalgo County border trade corridor, a spin off from the loop that the mobility authority put together in August when it determined it wouldn’t be able to fund the full project.

If Garza is able to finance at least 90 percent of the 29-mile roadway that connects three international bridges to Expressway 83, he’ll earn $1.1 million over the next three years as the executive director for the mobility authority, an independent government agency that was created in 2005 to manage long-term transportation projects for the county.

Garza, who will continue his work as the manager for the Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, was brought on board by the mobility authority because of his record in bringing projects like the county’s levee-wall to life, said mobility authority chair Dennis Burleson. With an investment of two years and more than $12 million on the original loop, the mobility authority’s top priority is the trade corridor, which is the closest to coming together.

“The trade corridor gives South Texas some credibility for the future,” Burleson said. “If the trade corridor is successful, then we can start looking for our next project.”

The mobility authority’s board must decide by mid-February if it wants to pursue an agreement with Hidalgo County Roadbuilders to build the border trade corridor.

Roadbuilders, an association of local engineers and Houston-based road developer Gerry Pate that was hired in 2007 to develop plans for the original loop, submitted a $396 million plan for the trade corridor last month, setting off a 120-day clock for the mobility authority to decide if it wants to agree to the maximum price.

The mobility authority will...

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Proposal would tie two bridges at mid-point linking Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico

Proposal would tie two bridges at mid-point
November 15, 2009 10:02 PM
By EMMA PEREZ-TREVINO, The Brownsville Herald

An innovative project that would tie two international bridges at center point to both link Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico, is planned by the state, county and city.

The Texas Department of Transportation, Cameron County and Brownsville propose to tie Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates with a parallel bridge.

Both bridges would be tied, but only at mid-point via a five-lane span.

"I think this (project) is the only one of its kind," County bridge Administrator Pete Sepulveda said.

"It (the tie-in) provides us options," in the movement of traffic, Sepulveda said.

And in connection with the project, the Federal Highway Administration has given notice to the public of an opportunity to provide input regarding the socio-economic and environmental effects of the proposed bridge

In the course of an environmental assessment of the project, FHWA issued the public notice via the Federal Register on Thursday, stating that a public hearing will be scheduled if persons request one on or before 5 p.m. Dec. 15.

A written request can be mailed to the Texas Department of Transportation District Engineer’s Office, P. O. Box 1717, Pharr, Texas, 78577.

The project calls for construction of a four-lane bridge for commercial trucks 32 feet downstream from the Veterans bridge.

The Veterans bridge and the proposed bridge would be connected at midpoint, "to provide flexibility in operation, maintenance, and security," the federal notice states.

In order to accomplish this, five bridge spans near the Rio Grande would join the bridges.

"This transitional connection would allow for one bridge to be operational while maintenance is undertaken on the opposite bridge," the notice states.

Furthermore, "this bridge connection section would allow traffic diversion from one bridge to another in case of an accident or emergency," the FHWA’s notice also points out.

The notice also states that it is not anticipated that the project would displace anyone. The proposal also would not require the purchase of additional rights-of-way and it would be constructed within an existing 300-feet wide right-of-way.

Sepulveda said the project is being developed jointly with Mexico officials.

The federal notice also points out that location maps, design plans, schematic, environmental assessment and other information regarding the proposed project are available for viewing at the TxDOT District office, 600 W. U.S. Expressway 83 in Pharr. The telephone number to schedule a viewing is (956) 702-6100.

McAllen and Brownsville Ranked 3rd & 4th in BusinessWeek's List of "Where the Jobs Will Be in 2010"

Where the Jobs Will Be in 2010

The recession might be technically over, but unemployment is rising month after month even in most of the nation's strongest job markets.

A full-fledged job recovery seems to be a long way away. But some metros are poised for significant job growth by the first quarter of next year. teamed up with Moody's to identify America's 25 next recovering job markets. These metros were ranked based on's projected job growth in the first three months of 2010.

Topping the list is Mount Vernon, Wash., a small town about 60 miles north of Seattle with just 48,000 workers. The town, which lost jobs quickly during the recession, could see a rebound, in part because tourism, retail, and hospitality will make a comeback as the economy improves. Additionally, the weak dollar will provide a boost to communities with international trading ports and metros that border Mexico, such as Brownsville, Tex. (a port town that is No. 4 on our list), and border town McCallen, Tex. (No. 3). Our list was also packed with towns that are closely linked to the energy industry (Billings, Mont., Houston, Tex., and Farmington, N.M.), college towns (College Station, Tex., Tuscaloosa, Ala., Auburn, Ala., and Lawrence, Kan.), and military towns (Columbus, Ga., Augusta, Ga., and Texarkana, Tex.).

None of the metros on the list experienced a housing bubble that had a disastrous pop. Miami, Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Stockton, Calif., will likely be in a funk long after many Texas metros are in growth mode.

"These are areas that had little or no housing cycle and stand to benefit from the renewed firmness in commodity prices," said Chris Lefakis, an economist at Moody's "This could be an export-lead recovery with the replenishment of inventory leading to a resurgence in manufacturing."

Room for Growth in Manufacturing
The manufacturing sector has taken such a battering that it has a lot of room for improvement. Inventories have fallen to such low levels that manufacturers will have to increase production even to keep up with existing demand, Lefakis said.

A plant opening or just expanding can have a magnified impact on a small metro, giving a swift boost to the job market, said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa. But job growth elsewhere mostly will be slow and incremental, he said. Companies will be cautious about hiring and will expand overtime hours and bring on temporary workers before making permanent hires.

The good news is that overtime pay and the increase in temp workers will push up wages nationwide, which could result in more consumer spending, he said.

"If the economy begins to grow, it will be enough [for companies] to add slowly to payroll," Naroff said. "I'm not expecting a vigorous upturn."

Travel, hospitality, and retail could see more dramatic growth. Throughout the recession, Americans have cut down on travel, eating out, and shopping. If the economy improves, they'll add more entertainment to their budgets, he said.

"People might not go to Disney World," said Naroff. "But they might start going out to dinner once week."

New York City, which didn't make our list, could also have a great year, especially now that Wall Street is giving out bonuses "like 2008 never existed," he added.

The federal government will also play a key role in the recovery even as it begins to phase out tax incentives and other economic stimulus spending, Moody's Chief Economist Mark Zandi said on CNBC Nov. 3.

"Without the government, the consumer would be pulling back," Zandi said. "By early next year job losses will abate … so we will start to see wage and salary growth and government can begin to pass that baton off [to the private sector]. But it will be a tricky handoff."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

County holds off on Ocean Tower for the time being

County holds off on Ocean Tower for the time being
November 13, 2009 8:04 PM
By LAURA B. MARTINEZ, The Brownsville Herald

The Cameron County Commissioners’ Court has held off on providing a contractor with a temporary storage site for demolished construction material from South Padre Island’s Ocean Tower, which is scheduled for demolition.

Action on the site was tabled Thursday because the Commissioners’ Court needed additional information about the implosion of the structure, including whether there would be hazardous material involved and who would be in charge of removing the debris, County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said.

Costa Rica Food & Spirits Restaurant requested that it be allowed to store the remnants of Ocean Tower for about 45 days, while the steel and concrete is separated, said Cameron County Parks Director Javier Mendez.

Costa Rica Food & Spirits Restaurant is leasing its land from Cameron County.

Oceans Towers is a 31-story condominium scheduled to be demolished in early December.

Construction on the 151-unit luxury project was halted last summer year after it was determined it was sinking, which caused cracks in beams and columns.

Antun T. Domit, listed as the resident agent for Ocean Tower LP, sent out letters in November 2008 to people who had either expressed interest or had purchased one of the condo units, informing them that the high-rise project was cancelled.

The developers of Ocean Tower have filed a lawsuit against the two engineering firms contracted for the project.

Meanwhile, while discussing the Ocean Tower situation at Thursday’s meeting, commissioners learned that Ocean Tower LP owes the county about $40,000 in back taxes from 2008. Ocean Tower owes other taxing entities in the county an additional $40,000, officials said.

Tax attorney John Guevara, of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP, on Friday said the law firm has filed a lawsuit against Ocean Tower on behalf of Cameron County for the 2008 back taxes.

The lawsuit was filed earlier this week.

Although past due tax notices were sent out beginning in July to Ocean Tower, the law firm has received no response, Guevara said.

Domit could not be reached for comment on Friday.

News of the owed taxes didn’t sit well with Precinct 3 County Commissioner David A. Garza, who said the county should consider filing an injunction against Ocean Tower.

An injunction would temporarily prohibit Ocean Tower from being demolished.

"I think we need to protect ourselves," Garza said. "It’s costing a lot for them (Ocean Tower) to do that. Maybe they’d be more apt to pay what they owe," if an injunction was filed.

However, Cascos said he didn’t believe asking for the delay would help the county collect the taxes.

Precinct 1 County Commissioner Sofia C.Benavides said since Ocean Tower has been selling some of the furnishings from the high-rise, the business should also make an attempt to pay the county money owed.

Advertisements have been placed in The Brownsville Herald stating that some of the furnishings, such as lighting, plumbing, interior fixtures, granite flooring and countertops, were for sale and priced below wholesale.

"If they’ve been selling all this stuff, they should be paying us," Benavides said.

Shovel-ready building sites in the Rio Grande Valley offer quick road to development

Shovel-ready building sites offer quick road to development

Photo: Delcia Lopez
Ramiro Garza, executive director of Edinburg Economic Development Corp., is seen recently with a map of the Edinburg North Industrial Park

The industrial park north of town was little more than empty land crawling with ants and snakes when Gerardo “Jerry” Nuñez set up shop there five years ago.

Nuñez, owner of Nu-Co Tool, a toolmaker for 35 categories of manufacturers, rented out his old building and moved into the park off U.S. 281 and Orange Avenue because he saw a chance to grow his business on the open land.

“The space was there and the opportunity of the unknown gets to me,” Nuñez said inside the 23,000-square-foot warehouse he built on the 8-acre plot of empty land he bought from the Edinburg Economic Development Corp. “I wanted to develop it from nothing.”

But in a fast-paced business world where time is money, Nuñez’s willingness to go it alone in an undeveloped area was a rarity.

Economic development officials in the Rio Grande Valley want to ensure they have everything already in place at a few select spots where they hope to land large employers.

By the end of this year, Hidalgo and Cameron counties will have four shovel-ready mega-sites, locations generally reserved for companies that plan to employ 500 or more people.

The designations are an effort by the Rio South Texas Economic Council, a group formed last year to market the region, to make the Valley appealing to large companies looking to set up shop here.

A Sharyland Plantation site for which McAllen and Mission economic development officials are seeking shovel-ready status is near the site the cities have talked about as a possible location for an auto manufacturer.

Hidalgo County’s other site is in the same park that is home to Nuñez’s Nu-Co Tool, next to where Brazilian denim manufacturer Santana Textiles plans to start construction next year.

Securing the shovel-ready designation requires extensive work to produce a thick binder filled with documents that show the site is ready for development, said Ramiro Garza, the executive director of Edinburg’s development corporation. To lure projects the size of Santana, which plans to employ 800 people by 2014, the old plan of building a sales pitch around an empty plot of land is no longer enough.

“When companies are looking for property, they want readily available sites,” Garza said. “They don’t want to wait for everything to be in place.”

When Austin Consulting certifies the Valley’s sites as shovel-ready, the firm says the locations will be the first in the state to receive the designation.

Most states — including Texas — have not adopted official criteria to designate a site as shovel-ready.

Instead, site location consultants that traditionally helped companies find a place to build provide the certification, placing their own stamp of approval on an area, said Frank Spano, a director with Austin Consulting, the firm hired by the economic council to review the Valley’s sites.

The shovel-ready designation grew out of a desire by companies that wanted to expand and governmental entities looking to land them as a way to speed the process along.

From start to finish, most companies spend nine months deciding where to expand or relocate their operations, Spano said. Having a site ready to go, with the property on the market, utilities extended and the permits in place, gives the company a better picture of what the site offers and how long until it can start operations there.

But getting the designation — since the companies that give them out put their own reputations on the line — isn’t easy.

To receive Austin’s shovel-ready designation, sites start with a comprehensive, 10-page form filled with questions, Spano said. By the time they complete the form’s requirements, the paperwork fills a 3-inch binder — the documents include everything from ownership information, aerial photographs and maps of the location, soil tests and environmental details, right-of way-plans and more.

But Spano said the designation makes the site appealing to companies looking to fast-track the development process.

“Shovel-ready sites are important because companies want to make a decision faster,” Spano said. “They want to have that information on hand. It certainly gives you a leg up on the other site.”

The Valley’s failed attempt to attract a Kia Motors Corp. manufacturing plant in 2006 provided the impetus for it to work toward the shovel-ready tags.

Automaker officials who looked at the area wanted to know why the Valley’s prospective site wasn’t certified by a South Carolina-consulting company with extensive experience in automotive site selection, said Pat Townsend, president of the Mission Economic Development Authority.

Kia eventually decided to put the plant in West Point, Ga., but the brief flirtation with the company showed local economic development officials the turnaround that the industry and others like it need.

Townsend said having the information ready is key even if there aren’t immediate prospects for the three subdivided plots off Shary Road that the economic council is designating as shovel-ready.

“We’re doing it with no immediate prospect identified,” he said. “The benefit is if we actually have a prospect identify it as a suitable location, we’re way down the road to answering what the company actually requires.”

The learning experience on what’s needed for the designation also gives local officials a better feel for what they need to compete for a major project, said Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corp. With all the specific details on the site available, the companies can spend more time learning about the region, the labor force and other key factors in a decision.

Although the economic council is starting with four shovel-ready sites, the plan is to develop a revolving portfolio of sites to attract companies that create 500 jobs or more, Patridge said. The jury is still out on whether the shovel-ready sites help the Valley bring in companies but, with the rather exclusive nature of the process, “it can’t hurt,” Patridge said.

“It’s like another arrow in our quiver we have available to target manufacturers,” Patridge said. “It puts us in a great position to compete.”

Nuñez is still alone in the industrial park he moved into four years ago.

But with roads and utilities in place in the 160-acre site, it likely won’t be long before he sees a flurry of development around him.

Santana Textiles and two other manufacturers are under contract to build on 70 acres in the park — work the city expects to start next year. And the 25 acres left in the park will soon be designated as shovel-ready.

Nuñez, who builds tools primarily for the automotive industry, said he’s looking to expand on the plot he already owns.

“Five years from now, we’ll see this park full,” he said. “It’s got everything in place to take off.”

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

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Port increases appeal of Hidalgo County sites

Port increases appeal of Hidalgo County sites
November 13, 2009 10:30 PM
Jared Janes

The distance between downtown Houston and the Port of Houston is the same as the distance separating the Port of Brownsville and McAllen.

While Houston’s two assets are viewed as part and parcel of Greater Houston, the Rio Grande Valley has struggled to brand the Brownsville port as part of a larger metroplex, said Eduardo Campirano, the director of the Port of Brownsville. But when it comes to marketing Hidalgo County sites designated as “shovel-ready” for large-scale industrial development, the port can’t be left out of the plans.

“Without a doubt, you have to look at all the assets the Valley has,” Campirano said. “By positioning ourselves as a complimentary aspect, the region obviously benefits.”

The Rio South Texas Economic Council, a group formed last year to market the region, is certifying two Cameron County sites as shovel-ready — one in Brownsville and one in Harlingen.

Easy access to the port will be a selling point for all of the area’s shovel-ready locations, but the port may also have its own ready-to-go site soon, said Gilbert Salinas, vice president of the Brownsville Economic Development Corp. The city is looking to partner with the port to certify a mega-site, a tract of land 500 acres or larger that is used to attract heavy manufacturing that relies on immediate access to a deepwater port.

With the shovel-ready tag already in place for a 73-acre site in a city-owned industrial park, Salinas said, the city plans to apply the expertise accumulated during that process to the certification of the port mega-site.

“We’re already seeing the benefits,” he said of the designation, noting a food processing company from Monterrey, N.L., has already requested space at the industrial park. “From here, we’ll use this as our blueprint for the next site we want to certify at the Port of Brownsville.”

As a regional asset, the port helps all parts of the Valley compete globally by offering a way to export goods using all major transportation modes, Campirano said. Using all the available means of transport helps the area produce an inventory that says “there is nothing the region can’t handle,” he said.

“If we position ourselves, there’s no reason we can’t compete for manufacturing, industrial or any other kind of company that is looking to expand.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chinese company to launch maquiladora in Reynosa

Chinese company to launch maquiladora in Reynosa

REYNOSA — HCP Packaging, a global supplier of custom cases for some of the world’s top cosmetic companies, will launch a new maquiladora early next year, the company said recently.

HCP Packaging USA Inc. — a subsidiary of the China-based parent company — expects to open the 60,000-square-foot facility at the Villa Florida Industrial Park in early 2010, adding 130 jobs to Reynosa.

Officials from the company, which supplies cases for lipstick and eye shadow and other cosmetics for Maybelline and L’Oreal among other companies, could not be reached for comment Thursday. A woman at the company’s New Hampshire office said Steve Levine, president and chief executive officer, was in China.

Ralph Garcia, vice president for business recruitment at the McAllen Economic Development Corp., said HCP is shifting production to save on labor costs and be closer to customers. The close proximity to the U.S. will allow the company to keep inventory levels low and costs down.

“One of the primary reasons (for the move) is that some of the management staff had previous experience here in Reynosa and had liked the area,” Garcia said.

With next year’s expansion, HCP will be among a number of manufacturers that have shifted production to Reynosa in recent months. Amid a global downturn in manufacturing, the city’s maquila industry has proven attractive for companies from the United States and within Mexico because of its proximity to the U.S. market.

Kohler Co. is in the process of closing an Arkansas plant to fold the production of stainless steel sinks into its maquila. Steelcase, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based office furniture manufacturer, is expected to open a new factory in early 2010.

South Korea’s LG Electronics said in July that it was creating 1,200 jobs by shifting production of electronics from a plant across the border from California, to its Reynosa facility.

Late last year, the global economic downturn assailed Reynosa’s maquilas, contributing to a 5.3 percent rise in unemployment. Since then, analysts have said the job loss has slowed, and some expect the border town’s manufacturers to begin recovering by 2010.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rooms To Go opening store in McAllen, Texas

Rooms To Go opening store in McAllen, Texas

Location will include Rooms To Go Kids showroom

MCALLEN, Texas — Rooms To Go will open a 35,000-square-foot main store and attached Rooms To Go Kids showroom here Nov. 21.

The main store at 1400 E. Expressway 83 near La Plaza Mall will feature the Top 100 retailer's room packages of living room, dining room and bedroom furniture. The "Kids and Teens" lineup at the RTG Kids showroom next door will feature various Disney collections - including Hannah Montana, Princesses, Pirates of the Caribbean and High School Musical - as well as an NFL collection.

The Seffner, Fla.-based company noted in a press release that at least 90% of the products shown at the new location will be available for quick delivery, including its popular Cindy Crawford Home Collection.

RTG CEO Jeff Seaman said the more than 130-store company has been looking for a site here for several years and is "thrilled to be opening our first store in McAllen."

"We're committed to providing unparalleled service, selection, value and a terrific shopping experience," he added.

The retailer said it will make an opening day donation to the McAllen Food Bank.

McAllen awards Bicentennial extension contract

McAllen awards Bicentennial extension contract
November 11, 2009 10:40 PM
Nick Pipitone
The Monitor

McALLEN — City commissioners on Monday awarded the contract for the long-awaited extension of Bicentennial Boulevard to an Edinburg company.

Construction could begin as early as January.

The awarding of the nearly $5.3 million contract to IOC Co. LLC brings the city closer to beginning the 2.2-mile extension of Bicentennial from Nolana to Trenton Road.

Plans for the extension have been 15 years in the making and have faced several obstacles along the way.

City officials say the addition of another north-south corridor in North McAllen will alleviate traffic congestion in the city, especially on 10th and 23rd streets.

“The No. 1 problem cited in our city among constituents in any district is traffic,” City Commissioner Marcus Barrera said. “It will lighten the load for all roads.”

More than a decade ago, city officials originally envisioned extending Bicentennial all the way to University Drive in Edinburg, but they faced opposition from residents there who fought the prospect of a heavily trafficked road running across their property.

The city eventually settled on a four-lane roadway extending to Trenton with an adjacent hike-and-bike trail.

“It’ll probably be very similar to how Second Street is,” Barrera said, referring to the combination of a north-south thoroughfare paralleled by a greenway. “(It will be) a more scenic way when trying to get to work or get the kids to school or get to the airport. It’ll be a boon for everybody.”

The major obstacle in the way of the plan was the crossing of two railroad tracks just north of Nolana and near Bill Schupp Park. The rail lines are owned by Rio Valley Switching Co. and the city had to close two crossings at Highland and Beech avenues earlier this year to offset the planned crossings farther north and continue with the project.

Another obstacle was the irrigation canal and drainage ditch running along Bicentennial. The city worked out an agreement with the irrigation district to convert the open canal into an underground canal on the east side of the extension, City Engineer Yvette Barrera said. The drainage ditch will remain open but will be moved slightly to the east, following the entire length of the extension.

The city also had to negotiate with property owners along the planned path of the extension to buy up the necessary land, a process it completed earlier this year, Yvette Barrera said.

The contractor, IOC, must turn in all construction plans and documents and then set up a pre-construction conference with the city, which Yvette Barrera estimates will take about three weeks. After the conference, the company would have 10 days to start construction.

Along with building the road, the company will lay down the concrete hike-and-bike trail. The landscaping aspect of the greenway will be handled by another company. The city plans to submit a grant application to the state for that part of the project, City Commissioner Marcus Barrera said.

The timing of the contract for the road was “serendipitous” for the city because of how competitive construction bidding is at the moment, he said. That’s in contrast to a few years ago when cost estimates were rising because development was rampant.

“We were able to take advantage of the situation and save the taxpayers millions” of dollars, the city commissioner said.

“Reynosa / McAllen, Union para el desarrollo fronterizo” – Strategic Alliance for Border Economic Development

“Reynosa / McAllen, Union para el desarrollo fronterizo” – Strategic Alliance for Border Economic Development
By: Cesar Sanchez
American Industries Group
November 10, 2009 --


United States of America. October 26th, 2009 – On October 20th, the economic promotion event "Reynosa / McAllen – Strategic Alliance for Border Economic Development" took place at the Camino Real Valle Oriente Hotel in Monterrey, NL with the special attendance of Consulates represented in the city of Monterrey, as well as Industrial companies and Chambers of Industry. The main objective of the event was to show the competitive advantages, business and investment opportunities in the Region of Reynosa / McAllen.

The event counted with the special participation of the City Mayor of McAllen, Mr. Ricardo Cortez, and his guests, Mr. David Guerra and Mr. Manuel Muniz, both representing the IBC bank, Mr. George Ramon, manager of the International Bridge Hidalgo-McAllen, and Mr. Joseph Olmeda, general manager of BSN Medical.

Diplomatic presence from consuls of countries such as Canada, Australia, Spain, USA, France, Honduras, Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and United Kingdom, among others, concurred with the benefits of establishing international operations in the Reynosa / McAllen region. The Industrial Chambers who attended this event were: Consejo Mexicano de Comercio Exterior, Sociedad Mexicana de Aguas, Customs Brokers Association, Colter Carswell & Associates, among others, and some companies from Monterrey interested in investing in the Mexico-US border region.

This event was organized and sponsored by the “Secretaria de Desarrollo Economico de Reynosa, Tamaulipas” (SEDEEM), the Economic Development Corporation of McAllen, Texas (MEDC), and also some Industrial developers established in Reynosa such as American Industries, GGP, “Grupo Sara” and “Grupo Stiva”. The event was a complete success and at the end some representants of European countries who attended the event announced to Armando Zertuche (Secretary of the "Secretaria de Desarrollo Economico y del Empleo de Reynosa"), their interest of visiting the Region of Reynosa / McAllen.

About American Industries Group:
American Industries Group is Mexico’s leading manufacturing facilitator with over 30 years of successfully landing manufacturing projects in Mexico from over 100 global corporations. For more information visit our company’s website: or contact us at + 52 (899) 951-8300

Press Contact:
Cesar Sanchez
American Industries Group
12120 Esther Lama Dr. S-100. El Paso
Texas 79936
Ph ( 915 )-860-0401

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX Ranked 4th in the Best-Performing Cities 2009: Where America's Jobs Are Created and Sustained

Best-Performing Cities 2009: Where America's Jobs Are Created and Sustained
Milken Institute Publications
Ross DeVol, Armen Bedroussian, Kevin Klowden, and Candice Flor Hynek
November 11, 2009

Leaders in the 2009 index, which ranks U.S. metros based on their ability to create and sustain jobs, are all metros that succeeded in avoiding the worst of economic declines driven by falling housing markets and job losses in manufacturing and global trade.

The 2009 top 10 performers (with 2008 rankings) of the 200 largest metros:

1. Austin-Round Rock, TX (4)

2. Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, TX (13)

3. Salt Lake City, UT (3)

4. McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX (7)

5. Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX (16)

6. Durham, NC (21)

7. Olympia, WA (9)

8. Huntsville, AL (5)

9. Lafayette, LA (14)

10. Raleigh-Cary, NC (2)

Regional economic factors also strongly influenced the rankings this year, with the oil and gas sector, technology and alternative energy providing stability among metros in Texas, North Carolina, Washington and Louisiana, which also benefited from low dependence on housing/construction. Austin in particular has been helped by its strong tech industry. It is the first metro to ever be ranked number one twice on the index, the last time being in 2000.

Another factor helping Texas metros move up in the rankings is that state’s favorable business climate and its ability to attract jobs and corporations away from higher-cost states.

The Best Performing Cities Index includes both long-term (five years) and short-term (one year) measurements of employment and salary growth. There are also four measurements of technology output growth, which are included because of technology's crucial role in creating good jobs and driving regional economies.

Data for all 324 metros is available on our 2009 Best-Performing Cities interactive web site.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

School bond projects end on time and within budget for McAllen ISD

School bond projects end on time and within budget for McAllen ISD
November 09, 2009 10:16 AM 
Jennifer L. Berghom
The Monitor

McALLEN — It’s finished.

On Oct. 30 the McAllen school district celebrated the grand opening of the last component of its 2005 bond projects, the district operations complex, which also houses the system’s warehouse, central kitchen and transportation building.

The $13.3 million project was the last of several that voters approved in 2005 when the school district sought to sell $97.8 million in bonds to pay for them.

Other projects funded with the bond issue were the construction of five new elementary schools and a middle school, a new gymnasium for Lincoln Middle School, additions for McAllen High and Navarro Elementary schools, a new heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system for Memorial High School, and other renovations and improvements.

Final expenses for construction and other work were about $10 million more than originally planned, but the district was able to pay for those extra costs because the money it received from selling bonds accrued more interest than the district was paying on them, said McAllen School Board President Richard Moore.

The completion of the bond project on time and with enough money was the combination of hard work by the community, the school system, the engineering firm contracted to oversee the project and a little “dumb luck,” Moore said.

McAllen taxpayers didn’t originally support spending millions of dollars on new constructions and renovations. They shot down a similar bond request in 2003. Opponents of that bond said they did not trust the district to handle such a large project.

That prompted then-superintendent Yolanda Chapa to visit with community and business leaders to find out what the district needed to do to win the people’s favor.

“She listened to the bad news,” Moore said.

The district also formed a committee of residents from different facets of the community, called the Community Capital Advisory Committee, to assess the needs of the district and compile a report. The language of the bond referendum came from the committee; the board just ratified it, Moore said.

Proponents of the bond also formed a political action group to advertise and promote the proposal when it was placed on the ballot two years after the earlier referendum failed.

After voters approved the bond issue, the advisory committee played an integral role in making sure the project stayed on task, said Moore and former committee members. The committee stopped meeting about a year ago, when the contract to build the maintenance and operations complex was awarded.

“All of the grunt work was done by the committee,” Moore said.

Members of the group met several times over nearly a year to go over plans and make sure the district stuck to what the bond measure authorized, said Mike Blum, who served as the committee’s president.

“There are very few times when a political community is able to do something that has a multi-generational impact,” he said. “I knew going in we could make a difference.”

The district built the elementary schools with identical blueprints to save money on planning and materials, Blum said. The committee also had a Web site residents could access to learn about the bond and where the money was going.

Moore and Blum also credit Jacobs Facilities Inc. — the engineering firm hired to oversee the project — with keeping costs low enough to complete all the projects within the parameters of the referendum.

When bids started coming in for new construction of Thigpen-Zavala and Fields elementary schools, they were about $2 million more than what the district had planned a couple years earlier, Moore said.

But Kevin Hitchcock, a program manager with Jacobs Facilities and former manager of the district’s bond projects, was able to negotiate lower costs for those schools, as well as the other bond items, Moore said.

Though the district was able to complete its bond projects without having to ask for more money, some who were involved in the construction and renovations thought the final price tag was too high, especially for the district operations complex.

“It certainly cost more than it should’ve cost,” said Ruth Skow, president of the McAllen American Federation of Teachers and a former member of the advisory committee. “I feel a lot of angst about the final costs.”

Skow praised Blum for how he was able to organize the committee members, even if they all didn’t always agree.

“I’m glad it’s completed. We did our best to do what the taxpayers approved,” she said. “I was very honored to work on the bond.”

Though the district has completed its checklist of needs addressed with the 2005 bond, it already has begun assessing what might be needed in the future.

Another community advisory committee has been formed, and earlier this year it gave a report to the school board listing repairs, construction and other work the district might want to consider.

The district has not made any decisions on that report or set a timeline for acting on it.

Jennifer L. Berghom covers education and general assignments for The Monitor. She can be reached at (956) 683-4462

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Veterans Bridge expansion aims to alleviate lengthy crossings for commercial traffic

Veterans Bridge expansion aims to alleviate lengthy crossings for commercial traffic
November 02, 2009 11:33 AM
By STEVE CLARK, The Brownsville Herald

Even with fewer border crossings taking place in Brownsville these days, traffic still jams up at Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates.

To address the problem, Cameron County is planning to add a new four-lane span for commercial trucks entering the United States. The county, which estimates the cost of the project at $11 million, is in the process of securing a necessary amendment to the bridge’s original Presidential Permit — required for any structure connecting the United States with a foreign neighbor.

Cameron County administrator Peter Sepulveda says construction should begin in April 2010 and take 12 months to complete. The federal Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program will pay 80 percent of the project via the Texas Department of Transportation.

Cameron County and the city of Brownsville will put up the remaining 20 percent. Sepulveda says the problem with Veterans Bridge is that commercial trucks have a hard time just getting to primary inspection lanes — even if the lanes are empty — because of passenger car traffic.

A U.S. Department of the Interior memo on the project notes the bridge is "at capacity," which translates into long wait times for commercial vehicles — 30 minutes during week days and up to two hours on weekends and holidays. The memo, generated by the U.S. Department of the Interior, forecasts traffic volumes at the bridge to double by 2028, even though volume for both commercial and non-commercial traffic has fallen recently.

Sepulveda says new passport requirements that took effect June 1 have taken their toll on non-commercial traffic, while the recession’s impact on maquiladoras that serve the U.S. auto industry has severely impacted commercial traffic. In 2009 the county will collect about $3.5 million in commercial traffic tolls at Veterans Bridge, down 15 percent from previous years. Sepulveda believes traffic volume will rebound with the economy, however.

"Our commercial and other traffic has been going down because of different issues we’re faced with, but eventually that’s going to come back up," he says. "We need to be prepared when traffic does improve.

Eventually the economy will get better. People will get used to having to get their passport cards. Things will get better. It’s just hard to tell whether it’s going to be in 12 months or 36 months."

The original environmental assessment for Veterans Bridge was put together in 1981. The bridge complex was built in 1999 at a cost of $25 million. Today the facility is crammed with "idling lines of cars and diesel trucks sitting for hours at a time," according to the Interior Department memo. This congestion, which the report notes "contributes to poor air quality at the U.S./Mexico border," would be alleviated by the new span and additional lanes, says the government.

Until the recent drop in volume, truck traffic volume had climbed rapidly at the border, spurred by NAFTA, which went into effect Jan. 1, 1994. The value of U.S. trade to and from Mexico by truck through Texas ports rose from $57.3 billion in 1995 to more than $106 billion in 1999, according to the government. From 1990 to 1999, truck crossings at Texas ports increased from 726,000 to 2.3 million.

Sepulveda says the bridge project has been in planning for about two years and has nothing to do with the city of Laredo’s plan to add seven commercial lanes to its trade bridge.

"They have a different market than we do," he says. "Our competition is the (Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge). That’s our nearest competition."

The Pharr bridge is congested, too, Sepulveda notes, thus improving the flow of trucks through Veterans Bridge could lure some commercial traffic away from Hidalgo County.

"That’s the idea," he says. "That’s a possibility."

Levee reconstruction project coming in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties

Levee reconstruction project coming

RIO GRANDE VALLEY — A $20.9 million levee reconstruction project along 48 miles of the North Floodway and Arroyo Colorado in Cameron and Hidalgo counties will create a more secure flood barrier and could reduce flood insurance rates for local residents, officials said.

Construction will benefit cities between and including La Feria and Weslaco.

“Hopefully it will decrease our risk of flooding,” La Feria Assistant City Manager Darla Jones said.

The project, awarded to Ballenger Construction of Harlingen, is expected to begin within the next few weeks and is projected to be finished by September 2010, Sally Spener, U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission spokeswoman, said.

“We intend to certify the levees to (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and that will help people out on flood insurance rates down the road,” she said.

Spener did not have an exact date when construction would begin. Ballenger Construction would not comment on the project.

The levee’s height will vary and will depend on how low it lies in relation to FEMA water level projections for a 100-year flood, which is defined as a flood so severe that it has a 1 percent chance of occurring in any given year, Spener said.

The new construction will create a barrier that is FEMA accredited, a certification that city officials say could reduce flood insurance rates.

The levee must rise 3 feet above the estimated 100-year flood level to earn the accreditation, Spener said.

“That is something that all the … residents will benefit from: not seeing their insurance premiums going up so dramatically,” Mercedes City Manager Richard Garcia said.

“All of this will take place to ensure that they will be able to discharge water into the floodway system and that there is not going to be a break on one of the banks,” Garcia said. “All of this is going to work out to ensure the safety of the residents.”

Jones, the La Feria city official, said the project could not have come at a better time.

“The timing of this project is perfect because our flood insurance rate maps are currently being revised by FEMA,” Jones said. “As it stands now our levees are not accredited so they are not providing any benefit for flood insurance purposes.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

McAllen named one of top places for Logistics

McAllen named one of top places for Logistics
November 6, 2009

Recently Expansion Solutions Magazine awarded the McAllen Economic Development Corporation with the 2009 Award for Excellence for its strategic link for logistics.

McAllen will be featured as an award winner in the magazine’s upcoming winter issue.

McAllen, TX, strategically located on the US-Mexico border, is a fast-growing metro area that also is home to numerous Fortune 500 companies. McAllen is also home to Foreign Trade Zone #12.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NAI RGV to Attend the ICSC Conference in San Antonio

ICSC Conference in San Antonio Novemebr 2-4 click here for more information.

STC to host symposium reflecting on the Valley's past, present and future

STC to host symposium reflecting on the Valley's past, present and future
Jennifer L. Berghom

The Monitor

McALLEN — South Texas College is hosting a symposium next week that looks at how much the Rio Grane Valley has changed and where it is headed.

The Old Valley/New Valley: Analyzing the Past, Present, and Future of the Lower Rio Grande Valley symposium will be at the college’s Cooper Center Nov. 4 to 7. It will include discussions the Valley’s history from its colonial days to its position as a center of international commerce, said Trinidad Gonzales, an STC history professor and organizer of the event.

The symposium will include panel discussions on issues related to the area’s growth, including population shifts, education and the economy, as well as Hispanic culture, Gonzales said. The healthcare panel listed on previous flyers has been cancelled, he added.

Presenters are expected to show trends reflecting how the Valley has changed from its days as an agrarian society to a growing urban international trade center.

The symposium will also touch on how the Valley is becoming more diverse, with people from other parts of the country, as well as the world, have been moving into the area, Gonzales said.

“We’re at an interesting time. We’re at a turning point,” Gonzales said.

Of note is a session scheduled for Nov. 5 where five experts from both sides of the border will discuss the past, present and future of the Valley’s economy, according to the college.

Gonzales said the idea for the symposium came from a professor from the University of Texas at Austin he was talking to when he attended a conference in that city more than a year ago. Gonzales and the UT professor, José Limón, were discussing how the Valley had grown, especially over the past couple of decades and decided it would be a good idea to bring together experts to reflect on the area’s evolution as well as its future, Gonzales said.

“We decided to shoot for it. We didn’t think we were going to get it,” Gonzales said.

With a $20,000 matching grant from the University of Texas — UT and STC each pitched in $10,000 — Gonzales and his staff spent the next year and a half developing the symposium.

“We shot for the stars but we were also pragmatic,” he said.

Gonzales said he hopes the symposium will attract everyone from policy makers to the average citizen interested in learning about the area’s history and where it is headed.

“Knowledge is important,” he said. “We’re trying to serve our constituency.”