Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rio Grande Valley better understood in Asia than in other parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patridge said Summers was a visionary with a pure heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rio Grande Guardian

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