Monday, December 7, 2009

Rio Grande Valley Region Aims for Strategic Growth with Map Project

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Asset mapping has been used elsewhere with success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McAllen bus terminal completes $1.7 million renovation

McAllen bus terminal completes $1.7 million renovation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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La Feria business to create 150 jobs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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