Harlingen led Texas with highest percentage increase of housing sales in 2014 with a 24 percent increase
Texas Border Business –
By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,
Harlingen, Texas is a City that is no longer just sitting quietly. The City with its leadership under Mayor Chris Boswell has climbed to a new level of height attracting key businesses and industries that place the City in a unique position of transformation.
During the most recent State of the City address, Mayor Boswell showed how they have been able to tackle almost every aspect of what makes this community tick.
For years, it was only the cities to the east or to the west that always had something new to show, but not any longer. Today, Harlingen is on par with the rest, their strategic moves have landed large business entities placing them at the top as a competitive city to watch and take note.
On Wednesday, April 22, 2015 the City of Harlingen was awarded and recognized as a visionary city. As Texas State Technical College celebrates 50 years of serving the state as the technical college of Texas, the TSTC Foundation honored the City of Harlingen with the South Texas Founders Award at TSTC’s 50th Anniversary Celebration in Austin.
The TSTC Founders Award recognizes those whose leadership, vision and contribution have been unusually significant to Texas State Technical College. The City of Harlingen was one of four Founders Award recipients. Mayor Boswell accepted the Founders Award from TSTC Chancellor Michael L. Reeser on behalf of the City of Harlingen.
Just recently, Harlingen Mayor Boswell addressed a press conference on Thursday, April 30, 2015, at Valley International Airport to formally announce the quality certification for the Harlingen Aerotropolis and praised the innovative partnership between the City of Harlingen, the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation, Valley International Airport and AEP that led to a quality economic development site certification from the internationally known firm of McCallum Sweeney Consulting, based in Greenville, S.C. one of the world’s leading economic development consultants, for the Harlingen Aerotropolis.
The list of accomplishments is long and there is more to come, making this a very distinguished city in South Texas. Mayor Boswell said that the advances in the aerospace industry for Harlingen and Cameron County create a bright economic outlook on the horizon for 2015 and beyond.
During his 2015 State of the City, the Mayor said, “The groundbreaking ceremony for construction of a future SpaceX launch site at Boca Chica Beach near Brownsville gained widespread publicity in 2014.” The SpaceX advancements represent expansion for the aerospace industry in Cameron County. United Launch Alliance – a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – has manufactured missile and rocket components in Harlingen for many years. Parts for Atlas V rockets are assembled in Harlingen and ULA has helped propel more than 90 satellites into orbit since 2006.
He was elated to say, “The chances are good that the next men and women launched into space from a U.S. launchpad will be riding on a rocket fabricated in part by our friends and neighbors here in Harlingen.”
He said that during 2014 there were 24 new businesses that opened in Downtown Harlingen, bringing the downtown closer to complete revitalization. Other progress he mentioned included the site of the Sun Valley Motor Hotel between Business 77 Sunshine Strip and Ed Carey Drive that’s scheduled for innovative retail development, the Qualfon communication center preparing to begin operations, the Residence Inn by Marriott, and the Candlewood Suites that recently opened.
The mayor says he’s confident economic growth will continue in 2015 adding that Harlingen led Texas with the highest percentage increase of housing sales in 2014 with a 24 percent increase – representing 910 homes – according to the real estate center at Texas A&M University.
The mayor also confirmed that discussions are underway to develop a new, five-year lease for the ULA plant next to Valley International Airport that could involve expanding ULA’s manufacturing capabilities. He added, “Seeing the development of an aerospace cluster between ULA and SpaceX in Cameron County is not a dream; it’s a reality, and as both of these companies thrive in our region, we expect others to follow.”
Mayor Boswell and the City Council are well aware that public safety attracts business growth and new residents to Harlingen. He said there has been a steady decline in crime for the past seven years, including a 22.7 percent decrease for incidents of violent crime and property crime in 2014 compared to 2013. He emphasized the one criminal statistic did not occur in Harlingen during 2014, “There was not a murder and that is noteworthy in any comparison between cities of similar population,” he said.
The systematic cooperation and goodwill between volunteers and city departments cleans up crime and as the Mayor highlighted, the overall image of Harlingen. He pointed out that all the debris and old tires that were removed thanks to the various neighborhood and citywide cleanup initiatives also contributed to the City’s improved appearance.
Another big factor, Mayor Boswell mentioned is the Texas Joint Counterdrug Task Force with its Operation Crackdown, the City of Harlingen Code Enforcement Office, and the City of Harlingen Public Works Department. Also, the City of Harlingen Police Department wrapped up a two-week mission by exceeding its goal of tearing down and hauling away 31 dilapidated and abandoned structures previously connected to drug crimes. “The city has spearheaded the elimination of 264 neglected structures in the past four years,” he said.
While other Valley cities also have had significant growth, Harlingen has managed to maintain most of its market share, despite competition from its Valley neighbors. The Mayor said, “Contributing to our retail growth in 2014 were Sam’s, Cracker Barrel, Ulta, and Kirkland’s, to name a few.”
Among Mayor Boswell’s top priorities as Mayor, is improving quality of life and economic development. He said that the successful communities that rank highest as “Best Places to Live” are physically beautiful and distinctive. He adds, “They work hard at taking care of and improving their appearance.”
Because of that, the City of Harlingen trimmed 555 palm trees around the city and during national “Make a Difference” Day, 117 volunteers came out to help clean up and refurbish the landscaped medians. He said, “Through monthly clean sweeps and quarterly trash-off events, we eliminated approximately 80 tons of debris and more than 900 tires from our neighborhoods.”
Another aspect, which is important to cities in the process of full development, is their culture of wellness, fitness, and adequate healthcare facilities. The Mayor had mentioned that in the coming year, construction of another important healthcare facility that will add over 250 new, good-paying jobs in Harlingen— the Palms Behavioral Health Center. “This 94-bed facility will serve an urgent need in Cameron County for mental health facilities and will contribute greatly both to our economy and our community. Our Economic Development Corporation and City staff did an outstanding job bringing this facility to Harlingen.”
He is proud that Harlingen now has an unemployment rate of 5.1 percent. That is a 4 percent drop in the last four years from 9.8 percent in 2011. “It’s the lowest rate in Cameron County and a close third to McAllen and Edinburg,” he stated.
All of this without forgetting the neighbors to east and south, the Mayor said that the Cities of Brownsville, Harlingen, and Matamoros have formed a partnership to study the creation of a Bi-National Economic Development zone to attract more manufacturing jobs to our region as more and more manufacturing migrates back to North America from overseas. He said, “A working committee appointed by the three cities has begun analyzing what needs to be done to create a BiNED zone. I want to thank Merced Perez-Treviño, Norwood Fedie, and Raudel Garza for serving as our representatives on that Committee and Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn for his service on the technical committee, as well as his contributions to the many other successes of the last year. Already, the United States Economic Development Authority has provided a grant of $300,000 for supply chain studies necessary to begin this project.”
Additionally, Harlingen and Matamoros recently signed a Sister City agreement, which is more than just symbolic. Harlingen’s relationship with one of Northern Mexico’s largest cities is important and a first step in strengthening ties and working collaboratively with an array of Mexican business leaders. “I want to thank our City Manager Carlos Yerena and Commissioner Basilio ‘Chino’ Sanchez for all they have done to further this effort,” said Mayor Boswell.
Harlingen’s Financial Condition is excellent; the city reported a great fiscal year ending on September 30, 2014 with an increase of their fund balance, which now stands at $17,183,636.
What else can you ask for when the retail activity sales continue to be strong? He said, “For the third year in a row, Harlingen’s sales have surpassed the $1 billion mark and are climbing. To appreciate the magnitude of our retail sales growth, it’s best to compare sales over time. Since 2008, Harlingen’s retail sales have grown 9.13 percent compared to 5.98 percent in McAllen and 5 percent in Brownsville.”
Mayor Boswell stated, “But it is certainly important to recognize at the outset my fellow City Commission members who work so hard for the Citizens of our great City each and every week: Commissioner Danny Castillo, Commissioner Tudor Uhlhorn, Commissioner Mike Mezmar, Commissioner Basilio ‘Chino’ Sanchez, and Commissioner and Mayor Pro-Tem Victor Leal.”
This is only a snapshot that gives you an idea of how well the city is doing, but the City of Harlingen offers so much more. TBB