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Mercedes is the Capital of Handmade Boots and the Best Collection of 6 ft. College Cowboy Boots in Texas

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Pictured above L-R: Hernan Gonzalez Executive Director for the Mercedes Economic Development Corporation and Heriberto Castro, owner of AC/DC Sign Group, a welding company hired to manufacture the 6 ft. aluminum cowboy boots.  Photo by: Pollux Castor, Inc.
Pictured above L-R: Hernan Gonzalez Executive Director for the Mercedes Economic Development Corporation and Heriberto Castro, owner of AC/DC Sign Group, a welding company hired to manufacture the 6 ft. aluminum cowboy boots. Photo by: Pollux Castor, Inc.

Texas Border Business – 

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,

Mercedes Texas has a history that is in continuous fast evolution. I can say that not even Juan José Ynojosa de Ballí who obtained the Llano Grande Spanish land grant in 1790, or even Ramon and Manuel Cavazos that in 1850 made Mercedes the location of the Anacuitas Ranch would have ever imagined that Mercedes was going to be the center of attention. Every time Mercedes has something new to offer, the town grows in businesses and population.

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Mercedes was incorporated in 1909 and by the year 1915 it already had 2,000 residents. In 1940, the City of Mercedes registered 7,624 residents.

Camp Mercedes and Camp Llano Grande, located outside the town, were home to 15,000 soldiers during World War I.

By 1952 Mercedes had a population of 10,065 and during the 1980s Mercedes was best known for its annual Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show; this event continues to pull hundreds of thousands of visitors to the city. Last year, the Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show Parade pulled in over 25,000 visitors to the city. Mercedes is also known for the large number of nationally renowned boot makers located here. Today according to the Census Report the city registered 16,352 (2013) residents.

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In retrospect, in 2006 something extraordinary happened to Mercedes, a 578,000-square-foot shopping center opened with 140 stores, the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets.

This by no means is an easy task to accomplish, and now that the outlet stores have been successfully open for almost ten years many other events have happened.

In September 2013, Hernan Gonzalez, a Valley native was hired to direct and manage the Mercedes Economic Development Corporation, which is the development arm for the Queen City of Mercedes. Hernan said, “We are charged to energize the business climate that brings customers to existing businesses, to encourage and support new business, and embrace homebuyers and developers to invest in Mercedes.”

The voters of Mercedes created the Economic Development Corporation in 1990 and it is the one vehicle to retain and attract business to Mercedes both creating jobs and wealth in the community.

Hernan has recruited the best self-propelled individuals to help him run a development enterprise for the city of Mercedes that never rest.

He brought in Alicia Aguilar as the Director of Marketing; Melissa Ramirez, Business Retention and Expansion Director and the seven-member volunteer board, which works closely with the City of Mercedes administration.

Hernan said he enjoys the blending of local government and business development. He said, “As the Valley market expands the future belongs to those who prepare, work hard, and can adapt to change.”

Under that thought, when Hernan arrived to take over his new job, he hit the ground running and has set a rapid pace for the City of Mercedes by roping an idea in record time. Hernan thought of the idea of manufacturing 5 ft. aluminum boots to display throughout the city. Mercedes’ 6 ft. College Cowboy Boots are unique outdoor art park sculptures created to represent different schools. These boots represent 20 universities in Texas, 2 boots represent universities outside of Texas, 4 boots represent colleges of Mexico, and one high school-Mercedes High School. Soon another boot will represent the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). These boots are a fine example of the legacy of boot making in Mercedes that are still Made In The USA.

The display of boots has taken on a life of its own, it’s like when a video goes viral, and that is what is happening in Mercedes. But in this case Valley people and tourists from the U.S. and Mexico are often seen taking their photos next to the boot with the colors and logo of their alma mater.

How did you come up with the idea of all these boots?  “The symbol of the boot was something adopted by the chamber of commerce for their business plaques.  The idea for the boots to be public art and sculptures was a Budweiser inspiration under a mesquite tree.”

In the process from inception to creation of these Boots what was most challenging to you? “It is incredible the variety and the number of higher education institutions in Texas.  Trying to decide what to include was a challenge.  The idea to also honor or pay tribute to three or four Mexican colleges was also good for the region.”

What favorable results have you had with these Boots in the City of Mercedes?  “There is a great amount of passion that comes with a person’s alma mater or where they aspire their children to attend or their favorite football team. Botas de Mercedes is a unique display that can only be found in Mercedes.  To our knowledge there is no other such tribute to Texas Colleges in the state.”

That is why Hernan’s business experience is characteristic of his ability to enhance anything any city already has to offer to begin with. He is like a cowboy in season and out of season.

The idea of the boots supports in every aspect what they do; it enhances the community, reinforces businesses by attracting people to the city, promotes boot manufacturers in the city, and goes perfect with one of the biggest celebrations The Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show.

Hernan said, “We have a long legacy of boot making in Mercedes dating back to the late 1800’s.  We have Rios of Mercedes supplying a number of national brands.  Soon we will have one of the only totally Made in the USA boots in the country.  So if we are not the boot capital yet, we will be soon.”

Do you think it was predestined along with your city government savvy to end up in Mercedes?  “Who really knows about fate. But what I do know is it feels like a comfortable pair of boots.  The first 12 months shows we have a dynamic team in Mercedes. We are getting noticed, making some headway for investors and developers to consider the Rio Grande Valley market.  Newcomers are noticing that Mercedes is a great place to invest, live and has the best pizza in the RGV.”

What and when will be the next eye-opener project for Queen City Mercedes?  “Probably a hotel conference center with a national flag – which will service the center of this market.  And of course the crown jewel of the Botas de Mercedes will be the unveiling of the UTRGV boot for the Vaqueros.”

How did the City of Mercedes earn the rights to be named ‘Queen City’?  “The vision and foresight of the early settlers knew the value of branding very early on.  There are several variations to the story as to who really was the Queen – but none have really panned out.  We believe that when the earliest settlers came to the Rio Grande Valley where Brownsville and Rio Grande City were already established, a center region was needed to identify and Mercedes, the Queen City stuck.”

Hernan came to Mercedes with 14 years of economic development experience in a neighboring community.  During that time that community was transformed with regional shopping destination.  Also he and his team were able to attract regional distribution centers to the city and to attract a Customs Landing Rights facility for international flights to the Mid Valley Airport.

Hernan of EDC in Mercedes puts a new meaning to the term, Let’s Rodeo! He makes Mercedes a regional player in the Rio Grande Valley Market.

Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez, the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year award winner and the 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Fellow award recipient. TBB

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