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."