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The Economic Development of the Rio Grande Valley, A Journey Through Time and the Prosperity Task Force Initiative

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Eddie Aldrete, Head of Aldrete Strategic Partners, powerfully unpacking the evolution and potential of Rio Grande Valley's economy during the 'Building a Thriving RGV' forum, where past meets future, and heritage fuels progress. Photo by Roberto Hugo González
Eddie Aldrete, Head of Aldrete Strategic Partners, powerfully unpacking the evolution and potential of Rio Grande Valley’s economy during the ‘Building a Thriving RGV’ forum, where past meets future, and heritage fuels progress. Photo by Roberto Hugo González

Texas Border Business

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By Roberto Hugo González

The head of Aldrete Strategic Partners, Eddie Aldrete, took the stage at the “Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum,” an unparalleled event hosted in the South Texas College Ballroom. The gathering saw the leaders of South Texas congregate to participate in the Futuro RGV event. Each keynote speaker, recognized as a leader in areas like media, economic development, emerging technology, and higher education, added their wealth of expertise to the discussion.

Aldrete continued by saying that decades ago, the Rio Grande Valley was known for its rich agricultural heritage, a reputation that has been somewhat diluted as the region’s economy has diversified. According to Aldrete, the shift began in the 1960s and continued through the 1980s, a period of high unemployment along the border, which was later mitigated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

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During the late 80s, it was observed that people residing along the Texas-Mexico border, spanning from Brownsville to El Paso, had significantly less access to higher education than other parts of the state. The South Texas Border Initiative’s unsuccessful lawsuit against this disparity sparked the legislature to take action. In the subsequent legislative session, numerous bills were passed, and millions of dollars were allocated to establish higher education systems linked to major educational entities like UT, A&M, and others. This led to an educational revolution that put the border residents on an equal footing with other parts of the state.

The current landscape presents a two-pronged challenge. On one side, the US economy demands a higher percentage of jobs in the STEM fields requiring advanced degrees. On the other side, there’s an incessant need for basic skills training or community college degrees to meet immediate workforce needs. Aldrete emphasized the necessity for such training to uplift individuals in the socioeconomic spectrum and fill local job vacancies.

Over the years, the Rio Grande Valley has evolved into a significant hub for healthcare, higher education, manufacturing, and international trade. This transformation was spurred by the Prosperity Task Force, launched by Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez. Aldrete applauded the initiative and everyone involved for their remarkable contributions to the region’s progress.

Aldrete’s Strategic Partners have been instrumental in supporting the McAllen area and other border regions. As a communications and consulting firm, they have partnered with Jon Hockenyos, an economist in Austin, to address crucial issues such as underemployment, poverty, and skills gaps. Their approach consists of multiple phases, starting with a survey of local employers to identify the existing skills gaps and proceeding to face-to-face interviews for more detailed insights.

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In the subsequent phase, the team will identify best practices and benchmark the region against them, followed by a detailed report on their findings to the leadership of the Prosperity Task Force and Judge Cortez.

Wrapping up, Aldrete referenced a significant statement from Dr. Steve Murdoch, a state demographer, about the future of Texas resting in its minority population. He warned of potentially catastrophic economic consequences if the next generation ends up less educated and less wealthy than their parents. The key message: the state’s future is intrinsically tied to how well its minority populations fare.

Aldrete’s talk underscored the importance of continuous adaptation and the urgency to bridge the gap between economic development and workforce needs. It also highlighted the role of regional leadership and strategic partnerships in propelling the Rio Grande Valley’s prosperity and transforming it into a thriving economic hub. Aldrete journeyed through the region’s past, present, and future, highlighting the various factors that have played pivotal roles in its growth and development.

The conference was organized by Futuro RGV, in cooperation with partners South Texas College, Rio Grande Valley Partnership, and Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, with the objective of crafting a holistic vision for community prosperity in Hidalgo County. Dr. Nedra Kinerk, President of Futuro RGV, highlighted the power of collective action and the importance of resource and information sharing among the county’s communities.

Established in 1999 as a citizen advocacy group addressing quality-of-life issues in McAllen, Futuro RGV has since evolved into a respected public affairs organization that disseminates crucial information and addresses key issues in South Texas. According to Dr. Kinerk, the organization’s mission is to “encourage cooperation, disseminate knowledge, and promote innovative solutions that contribute to the economic prosperity and general well-being of Hidalgo County. 

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