Success in the Valley Didn’t Happen by Itself, Many Great People Helped

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Glen Roney at his office in Kerria Plaza. The interview was extensive about the importance of banking and the maquila industry, which was known as the twin plant concept. At the time, it was directed under the McAllen Industrial Foundation (MIB). Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez
Glen Roney at his office in Kerria Plaza. The interview was extensive about the importance of banking and the maquila industry, which was known as the twin plant concept. At the time, it was directed under the McAllen Industrial Foundation (MIB). Photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

As originally published in Texas Border Business newsprint edition January 2019

Nothing happens by itself unless through a divine mandate. More than three decades ago, I had an opportunity to interview Glen E. Roney. He had always been a popular man due to his dedication to the communities of South Texas, and also because of his philanthropic activities.   

In 1987, I went to visit him at a temporary office on the third floor of Kerria Plaza; we had an interesting conversation about the population growth of the Valley and the success McAllen was having on multiple fronts. 

One of them was a progress report related to the twin Maquila concept, which was ongoing at the time, and how great men like him have gotten together to make things happen. Their dedication and vision of giving space to such industry have evolved to the twenty-first century, benefitting all of us.

Mr. Roney was excited to talk and share a copy of the Wall Street Journal; he cited this report where the reporter called this area “chronically depressed cities along the Rio Grande,” even though all had been adding jobs at a healthy rate, according to a report issued by the Texas Employment Commission back then.    

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Tommy Joyner
Tommy Joyner, photo by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

A reporter of the Wall Street Journal by the name of Eugene Carlson spoke with Tommy Joyner, the president of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, “Most people in the North think these jobs are only in Mexico.” Tommy replied, “That’s not the case.” 

Read below more about my conversation with Glen E. Roney and then look at what he and others built for our future, which is here today.

“Many Companies Are Interested in The Maquila Program” – Roney

Published by McAllen City Magazine (MCM), April 1987. MCM evolved to Texas Border Business

April 1987 – McAllen City Magazine spoke recently with Glen E. Roney, chairman, and CEO at Texas Regional Bancshares Inc., a multi-bank holding company in McAllen. Roney also serves as senior vice president on the board of directors of the McAllen Industrial Board (MIB). In our conversation with him, we asked him to don the hat of the latter position. Our goal to report on the progress of industrialization in the South Texas area, specifically McAllen Texas. What we learned was reassuring and a justification for optimism that the Valley is laying the foundation for sustained growth and opportunity for now and the future.

With obvious pride, Roney handed me a copy of the Wall Street Journal, dated Tuesday, March 17, 1987. On the front-page column entitled “Regions,”Wall Street reporter Eugene Carlson presented an article captioned “Texas Border Cities Adding Jobs at Healthy Rate.”In the article, Carlson tells of “strange happenings” along the Texas-Mexico border.

Such strange happenings included revelations that, while the city of Houston lost jobs in the past year, and Dallas “barely held its own,” the cities along the border have been adding jobs at a steady pace. 

As an example, the Wall Street Journal states “McAllen had 21 % unemployment in January, the highest of any metropolitan area in the United States. Yet employment in the McAllen area grew 4% in the twelve months ending in January.” That is to say, although unemployment remained at 21 % and did not drop to 17%, this 4% increase in jobs prevented us from reaching the stage where a full quarter of our McAllen population remain unemployed. 

While the resurgence of the citrus industry and the rising number of Winter Texans visiting the Valley were rightfully cited as reasons for the “border employment growth,” the Maquila industry was singled out as the big factor in border employment due to its “rapid expansion.”

As a banker, Roney emphasizes the importance of the Maquila program as a potential source for attracting much-needed capital. As senior vice president of the MIB, Roney cannot overemphasize the worthiness of developing and expanding the Maquila venture. 

Texas Lt. Gov. William Pettus Hobby Jr.
Texas Lt. Gov. William Pettus Hobby Jr.

“I recently served on a task force appointed by the Lt. Governor William Pettus Hobby Jr., studying and reviewing the industrial development along the border from El Paso to Brownsville,” says Roney. 

“In one of the meetings that I attended, an official of General Electric was present, and his comments were that because they’re locating plants in Mexico, it had saved some 30,000 jobs in the United States. Had they gone to some other area, those jobs would have been lost.” 

“So, in spite of what some people say, I don’t believe the Maquila program takes jobs from the U.S. side of the border, and of course we have a lot more at stake by helping Mexico, than we do somebody over on the far side of the Pacific Ocean.”

Roney added that there are many large U.S. companies now interested in the Maquila program, and, he is confident that once they see first-hand what this area has to offer, all border communities will have a fair chance of acquiring a share of the industry. 

The McAllen Industrial Board is made up of several community and business minded individuals. They are Board President, Paul Moffitt of Valley Federal Savings and Loan; Glen E. Roney, Vice President; Jay Fields, Secretary; Frank Birkhead Jr., Treasurer; A. T. Baucum, Joe Garza, President and Chief Executive Officer for Valley Federal Savings; Bill Meyers, and Jim Bexley.

As an example of the board’s efforts and accomplishments, Roney points to the McAllen Trade Zone in south McAllen. The Trade Zone is home for an industrial complex which has a large number of industry giants such as Zenith, General Electric, etc., with operations ranging from warehousing to actual manufacturing within the Zone. 

The Zone in McAllen, according to Roney, is the thirteenth zone approved in the United States. It required a long, slow process and several years to finally receive approval. The concept behind the Zone is to allow manufacturers to utilize the area by bringing in commodities without paying duties on the product until it is shipped to its final destination. This enables a firm to bring in foreign made products not yet completed to receive final production. 

Though not qualifying for the privileges of the Zone, many companies are locating around and near it, thus adding to the industrial development effort of the MIB, which is among the goals of the Board. 

Also listed as a priority for the Board is the creation of more jobs on both sides of the river. Although in theory and practice, more jobs will be created in Reynosa, Roney expresses satisfaction at this prospect due to the realization that McAllen will benefit by the return of dollars to the Valley by way of shoppers and visitors from Mexico. It’s estimated as much as 40% of every dollar will find itself in the tills of merchants on the U.S. side of the border.

Mr. Roney is quick credited the area educational system for providing qualified individuals with the necessary technical knowledge to complement the extensive quantity of manual labor available along the border.

“We have a real asset here in the form of Texas State Technical Institute that works with business and industry in training people to work in various capacities. As a new industry comes to town, they can, in fact, tell TSTI what their needs are in the way of trained personnel.” 

Also noted by Roney is the extensive expansion of Pan American University in Edinburg.

Increase of Population and Excellent Atmosphere

As we head into the future well aware of the fact, we must diversify our economy in order to not only survive but also to surpass, be assured the MIB is making great strides in identifying prospective industry and providing needed employment to the Valley. It is an ongoing program which, each month, affords corporate representatives the opportunity to visit the Valley and assess its potential to contribute to their operations. 

Asked to give an assessment on the Valley in the next five years, Roney expects to see a continuing increase in population and attributes this to the excellent atmosphere and climate in this area.

Good Police Department and Good City Management

“We have a lot of things going for us. We have excellent living conditions here, and I think McAllen especially has a lot of the services that newcomers like to see, such as educational facilities, hospitals, and medical facilities, libraries, paved streets and desirable neighborhoods to live in, good police departments, and good city management.”

Banking is Extremely Important

One sustaining factor in the development of the local economy is the continued involvement of area banks in the years ahead. 

“I believe”, says Roney, “that the banking industry is extremely important to making some of the other things happen such as industrial development. I think to a certain extent, the direction the bank goes is the direction the city and the Valley goes, we have to be interested and involved.” MCM. All rights reserved.

Find below a bit of the of how the MIB members helped transformed to become McAllen EDC. 

Founded by the City of McAllen in 1988, the McAllen Economic Development Corporation (or MEDC) is a nonprofit corporation that generates job growth by attracting new industry and helping existing companies to expand. Part of McAllen’s success has been the explosive growth of Reynosa, Mexico. Just across the United States – Mexico border, both communities have collaborated to create one of the most recognized industrial sectors home to several Fortune 500companies. The MEDC is committed to being a single point of contact to industrial businesses; whether your manufacturing needs are in McAllen or Reynosa, we provide services at no cost to the companies seeking cost-effective manufacturing strategies to maintain a competitive edge in today’s global economy.

Click here to read more about Glen E. Roney

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