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Unveiling Economic Resilience and Growth Potential in Hidalgo County

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Dr. Kevin Peak, leading economist at South Texas College, revealing the hidden potential and economic resilience of Hidalgo County - reshaping perspectives, and stimulating growth. By Roberto Hugo González
Dr. Kevin Peak, leading economist at South Texas College, revealing the hidden potential and economic resilience of Hidalgo County – reshaping perspectives, and stimulating growth. By Roberto Hugo González

Texas Border Business

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By Roberto Hugo González

At a recent event named, “Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum,” a spotlight was thrown on the efforts of the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force. This formidable consortium consists of 13 subgroups, each devoted to aspects of community development ranging from social services to job training. Born out of the initiative of Hidalgo County judge Richard F. Cortez, the task force’s mission is to assiduously address poverty issues within the county, aiming to foster a compassionate environment where community members actively support each other.

A key participant in the forum was Dr. Kevin Peak, an economist with in-depth knowledge of the Rio Grande Valley Economy, currently employed as a full-time professor of economics at South Texas College. Dr. Peak brought forward a critical perspective on the region’s economic landscape, outlining the possibilities for job creation and industrial expansion, an understanding perfected through his 30 years of teaching and his particular interest in community-level economic growth and development.

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Dr. Peak’s insights were divided into three categories. Firstly, he explored the substantial economic growth and development seen in the region over the past 25 years. Next, he discussed the distinct attributes that make the community an attractive proposition for investment. Finally, he contemplated how to increase existing investment and attract new resources, with the aim of creating quality employment opportunities in the area.

In highlighting the economic progression of the past 25 years, Dr. Peak outlined the region’s transition from an agriculture-based economy to a technology and innovation-driven one. An emotional statistic often brought forward – that McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, Texas, rank amongst the poorest US cities – was rebuffed by Dr. Peak, stating that while technically accurate, this representation does not tell the full story of the area’s economic growth and resilience.

He offered compelling evidence of this by citing significant improvements in leading economic indicators over the past quarter-century. For instance, the unemployment rate in Hidalgo, Starr, and Cameron Counties in 1998 was alarmingly high at 21.3%, similar to the Great Depression era. Remarkably, concerted efforts by community, business, and political leaders have brought it down to 6.4% today.

He pointed out that further evidence of economic progression was presented with the rise in median household income. In Hidalgo County, for example, the median household income (adjusted for inflation) has impressively doubled from $20,000 in 1998 to $40,000 today.

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These economic indicators portray an encouraging narrative of Hidalgo County – one that contradicts the pessimistic statistic often attributed to it. Dr. Peak’s presentation reveals that, despite its challenges, Hidalgo County has demonstrated substantial resilience and growth potential, providing a robust foundation for further community development efforts. As he continued presenting this economic analysis, it was clear that the county’s potential for further prosperity hinges on leveraging its achievements and focusing on the creation of high-quality jobs in future-forward industries.

Dr. Peak continues, “We can proudly state that over the last ten years, our population has increased by almost 15 percent, a significant rise compared to the US average of less than 7 percent. We are now a region teeming with a population of over 1.4 million, an ample and robust workforce that is a primary attraction for incoming industries.”

Speaking of the Region’s workforce, he said that it’s important to highlight the increasing levels of educational attainment, another critical factor for potential investors. “We’ve seen dramatic improvements in this area as well, with a significant surge in the number of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or higher. More than 60,000 individuals in Hidalgo County now hold at least a bachelor’s degree, a remarkable rise from about 30,000 individuals twenty-five years ago. These figures unequivocally underline the concerted efforts we’ve made in ensuring a skilled and educated workforce.”

“Further, our bilingual and bicultural population offers a competitive edge in today’s globalized economy. Our community’s fluency in both English and Spanish provides us with the versatility to operate in various markets, providing unique perspectives and problem-solving abilities that add immeasurable value to the companies and industries setting up shop here.

As he continued, Dr. Peak said that besides the human capital, the region boasts strategic geographical location – proximity to the Mexican border and to the Gulf of Mexico. This unique positioning allows for easy access to international trade routes and markets, making the region a major hub for commerce and industry. The development of robust infrastructure including highways, airports, and international bridges, as well as the presence of Foreign Trade Zones, makes Hidalgo County a natural choice for businesses seeking expansion or relocation.

Furthermore, the cost of living and doing business in the region is significantly lower compared to many other metropolitan areas. From lower land prices to affordable utilities and tax incentives, the financial benefits of setting up shop in Hidalgo County are hard to ignore.

The strides in healthcare and education sectors have been monumental too, according to him. The establishment of a new medical school and expansion of university campuses has not only provided a major economic boost but also improved the quality of life and well-being of the residents.

“We must remember that economic development isn’t just about improving numbers; it’s about improving lives. Every job created, every degree earned, every company started or relocated – it all contributes to the wellbeing of our community and our shared prosperity. And we’ve been doing just that, showing real, sustainable progress year after year.

He said that Hidalgo County is not an impoverished region destined for economic stagnation; it’s a land of economic resilience and untapped growth potential. “As we continue to invest in our people, our infrastructure, and our community, we pave the way for a future that is brighter, more prosperous, and full of opportunity. The story of our area’s economic development is not just a story of growth but also a testament to the strength, resilience, and determination of our people.”

As he concluded, “To those who view our region through the lens of poverty statistics, I say look again. Look at our progress. Look at our potential. Look at our people. Because the real story of Hidalgo County is not about where we have been, but where we are going.”

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