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Julian Alvarez, a True Advocate of Regional Issues – A Giant with a Heart who is Willing to Serve

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JULIAN ALVAREZ

Texas Border Business – 

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,

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August 2015

Julian Alvarez is a giant with a big heart and is always willing to serve. Anyone who has met Alvarez and seen him in action will attest to the truth of these words. Alvarez is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, an association of leaders that dates back to 1944. To be exact, it was 71 years ago when Lloyd Bentsen, Sr. became the first Chairman of what we now know as The Rio Grande Valley Partnership Chamber of Commerce.

After Mr. Bentsen, there have been other leaders heading this position; one who stands out is the late Bill Summers who passed away in 2009. It wasn’t until August 20, 2010, that Linda McKenna became Summers replacement. McKenna moved outside of the Valley opening an opportunity for Alvarez, a Harlingen, Texas native. He was named the new President and CEO and officially took over on February 1, 2012. Prior to this position, Alvarez had worked for the legendary U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

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Taking over the helm of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and walking down the same roads that Summers created is no little thing. That task is monumental; it deals with a dynamic region that has grown by leaps and bounds and has an unbelievable demand for services.

Alvarez’s daily challenge is to bring together the different area leaders with their ideas to grow their particular city, and promote economic development, tourism and border relations and apply those ideas for the benefit of the entire region. He told Texas Border Business, “My main priority here is to support those that are involved in economic development in South Texas.”

According to him, discussion regarding transportation is probably something that the partnership has been known for. “Back in 1993 four gentlemen were involved with what we know as the I-69 Central, East and West, and Interstate 2. These were probably some of the biggest things that the Rio Grande Valley has experienced in the last 20 years regarding transportation,” he said.

He pointed out that it took the late Bill Summers to get leaders in South Texas to agree that the interstate highway was necessary. He said, “I think I’ve been following his legacy trying to get the people from the northern end, and the southern end to work on regional projects that we feel are important.”

Alvarez’ experience in law enforcement and relationships attracted the attention of Senator Hutchison during her last term in the U.S. Senate, and her staff reached out to him.

“I was a highway patrolman, and her office reached out to me regarding legislation that had just passed, and that was to construct a border fence along the South Texas border from Brownsville to California,” he stated.

Being with the Texas Department of Public Safety gave him the opportunity to develop professional relationships with important agencies like the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation), the Department of Homeland Security, which were important to Senator Hutchison.

Alvarez said, “Sen. Hutchison identified that having somebody down here that was familiar with the agents and was able to provide her some input was important.”

From working with the Texas Department of Public Safety, he then joined Sen. Hutchison as her South Texas Regional Director, serving as her eyes and ears to the area. He said, “I represented 18 counties all the way to Del Rio. My main responsibility was to inform her about the dynamics and happenings. I was especially focused on veteran’s health care and our security of the area. She was especially concerned with what people were saying about the construction of the fence between the United States and Mexico.”

In that capacity, he had the opportunity to visit with five people whom he felt were key individuals in South Texas. “I met with Richard Cortez, at the time he was mayor of McAllen; and with Sam Vale, who represented Starr County, and with Efrain Valdez, who was the mayor of Del Rio. On my way there I met with Raul Salinas who was the mayor of Laredo at the time; and with Dr. J. Gilbert Leal, who was my mentor. I also met, probably the most important person, Bill Summers, who in my opinion was the catalyst.”

When the opportunity came up to work for the partnership, it was Linda McKenna who approached Alvarez. McKenna was moving on to another city and identified Alvarez as someone that could just fit in the position. She was well aware of Alvarez’ policy background with the Senate office, and of Alvarez’ relationships developed with the local leadership of South Texas and in Mexico.

“I felt the partnership was a great fit for me because of my experience in Homeland Security and with Veteran’s healthcare issues,” Alvarez said. Now, after three years on the job, he says that the partnership continues to be in a unique position regionally. “A perfect example, at the recent swearing in of Governor Greg Abbott, it felt like the partnership was in a good position, a true regional entity that could serve as a catalyst for him to get a group of folks that he knew were going to represent South Texas well.”

He pointed out, “The only reason that the Rio Grande Valley Partnership is so successful is because Bill Summers left a great legacy. There has to be that true regional partnership entity in South Texas to continue to work so successfully.”

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership, which represents four counties (Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy) with approximately 1.3 million people, often goes beyond that area. “I just got off the phone with the public works director from the City of Del Rio; we are working on regional water projects that require that I have cooperation from my contacts in Laredo.  He continued, “At the same time, I answered phone calls from Houston wanting to know what things we are doing.”

Alvarez is often connected to Washington D.C. or the state capital in Texas. “He said, “It’s a daily routine for us because they are asking for input and ideas. They want to know how the dynamics work.”

One of the things that we’ve noticed about Alvarez, is that he is always on the move, very active and energetic. He and the board he represents have adopted ideas that benefit the region and on occasions these ideas become the template in other areas.

He also said that he has had good mentors in addition to his father. “I have had mentors like Dr. J. Gilbert Leon, who was the president of Texas State Technical Institute, now named Texas State Technical College, and former McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez. I think both of those two gentlemen are leaders and I want to follow in the same footsteps.”

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership is comprised by 43 board members that come from the business community, banking, lawyers, hospitals, and economic development directors. Eight of them belong to the executive team and in essence they are a very diverse group of people. Together with Alvarez and five members of the staff they tackle transportation issues, the I-69 project, border trade, and with special effort on lawsuit abuse, just to name a few.

His concern about his industry is, “That we get away from the regional concept; we need to work together as a region.” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling who is also the Chairman for the Regional Water Authority said, “Alvarez is a great asset for our area as the leader for the Valley Partnership.  Alvarez’ experience in government, his enthusiasm for Valley betterment, and his work ethic have been a part of the reason for his success.” He emphasized that it is important to continue the momentum of marketing South Texas. At some point, he loves an opportunity to figure out a way to get everyone on the same page, to talk positive about South Texas.

He said, “Just recently, I provided my remarks to the Bloomberg newspaper regarding South Texas and they asked, ‘If people think that South Texas is so dangerous why are major companies coming to the area’.” He told the reporter that it was perception. Unfortunately, he admits, ‘perception is reality to some people’.

In addition, he said, “We have Space X, we have the fusion of two major universities, and the creation of a medical school, and we’ve got ports of entry that continue to grow. We’ve got great leadership in South Texas. What I see for South Texas is a lot of potential and great opportunities for young professionals.”

Alex Meade, EDFP, CPM, the Chief Executive Officer for the Mission Economic Development Corp. commented, “Alvarez is great at what he does. He’s always thinking regionally and does an excellent job in representing the board where ever he goes. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Alvarez since he worked for Senator Hutchison and consider him a close friend.”

Alvarez was the first in his family to attend college, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Secondary Education from Texas A&I University now named Texas A&M University-Kingsville. After college, Alvarez worked for 12 years in the Student Services Division at Texas State Technical College. He also worked as a state trooper, serving on the prestigious Riot Team and Honor Guard Squad.

Julian Alvarez was selected to be our feature story in the August 2015 issue of Texas Border Business because he as a believer in regionalization he is always working to better our region. “When the Rio Grande Valley positions itself as one region with one voice it resonates throughout our great country,” he finalized.

Roberto Hugo Gonzalez is the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner and the 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Fellow Award recipient. August 2015. TBB

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