Featured, from left: Agustín García, Jr., Executive Director of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Harvey Rodríguez, Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Mayor Pro Tem Homer Jasso, Jr., and City Councilmember David Torres take a break in Dallas during the statewide convention of the International Council of Shopping Centers, held at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center on Wednesday, November 4, through Friday, November 6, 2015. The local leaders posed for this shot at Pioneer Plaza, located next to the convention center. Not shown, but who also played a leadership role at the convention, is Ellie M. Torres, Secretary/Treasurer of the Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.
Photograph By DIEGO REYNA
With one month to go in 2015, construction and related building activities in Edinburg reached almost $128 million in value, with more than $13.1 million of that amount taking place in November, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. Both of those figures are ahead of the pace for the same periods last year, when total construction activities from January through November 2014 came in at more than $113.1 million, and more than $4 million for November 2014. The value of construction of new homes for the first 11 months of 2015 leads all year-to-date categories, amounting to more than $43.6 million, compared with more than $31.6 million from January through November 2014. The most valuable construction project to receive a building permit in November was the Marriott Towne Place Suites, being built at 5002 W. Trenton Road by Qube RGV Systems Industries. The construction aspect of the new hotel is valued at $5 million, but the investment for everything, from land to furnishings to the facility, will eventually reach $10 million, according to investors. This Marriott is a new concept and will be the first of it’s kind for the Marriott brand and is scheduled to be open in the Fall of 2016. The second-most valuable project, classified as Multi-Family Residences/New Construction/Addition/Remodel and located at 4604 S. Sugar Road, was issued a building permit for work worth $2 million to Greenpoint Developers, LLC. Also, National Border Patrol Council was issued a building permit for work valued at $580,000 for a new commercial facility to be located at 4174 Crosspoint Boulevard. Chris Ryan Homes & Investments, LLC, was issued the most valuable building permit for a single-family residence, worth $280,000 for its construction, and located at 4817 August Dr. in the Summerfield Manor Subdivision. The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members. Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related. A building permit includes the estimated value of the work, but does not include the costs of the lot, equipment and furnishings. In general, a building permit is legal permission given by the City of Edinburg to erect, construct, renovate, maintain, or conduct any other specified activity on any building or structure, or on any installations or facilities therein. The term “building permit” includes but is not limited to building permits, electrical permits, mechanical permits, and plumbing permits. The top categories in Edinburg from January through November 2015 were: $43,652,244 – Single-Family Residences New Construction; $27,431,178 – Commercial New Construction; $24,259,705 – Non-Taxable New/Alterations (government, religious, but not including the value of construction activities at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley or its School of Medicine); $18,472,564 – Commercial Alterations; $8,264,122– Multi-Family Residences New Construction; and $5,742,670 – Residential Alterations. The top categories in Edinburg for November 2015 were: $5,731,000 – Commercial New Construction; $3,870,670 – Single-Family Residences New Construction; $2,298,766 – Multi-Family Residences New Construction; $509,205 – Commercial Alterations; $391,601 – Residential Alterations; and $356,900 – Non-Taxable New/Alterations (government, religious, but not including the value of construction activities at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley or its School of Medicine). Also according to the city’s Code Enforcement Department, 307 single-family residences have been approved for construction from January through November 2015, compared with 256 single-family residences during the same 11-month period in 2014. The most valuable construction project to receive a building permit in November was the Marriott Towne Place Suites, being built at 5002 W. Trenton Road by Qube RGV Systems Industries. The construction aspect of the new hotel is valued at $5 million, but the investment for everything, from land to furnishings to the facility, will eventually reach $10 million, according to investors. This Marriott is a new concept and will be the first of it’s kind for the Marriott brand and is scheduled to be open in the Fall of 2016. The second-most valuable project, classified as Multi-Family Residences/New Construction/Addition/Remodel and located at 4604 S. Sugar Road, was issued a building permit for work worth $2 million to Greenpoint Developers, LLC. Also, National Border Patrol Council was issued a building permit for work valued at $580,000, and listed as Commercial News Construction, for a facility to be located at 4174 Crosspoint Boulevard. Coming at a value of $339,400 was a project by the City of Edinburg located at 1231 N. Doolittle Road, categorized as Non-Taxable Additions/Repairs, while Aldama Investments was issued a building permit for a Multi-Family Residences New Construction/Addition/Remodel, located at 1804 Horse Tail Falls, valued at $298,766. Chris Ryan Homes & Investments, LLC, was issued a building permit for the most valuable single-family residence, worth $280,000 for its construction, and located at 4817 August Dr. in the Summerfield Manor Subdivision.
Featured: Mark Iglesias, President of the Board of Directors, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, prior to leading the EEDC Board of Directors meeting, held on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at Edinburg City Hall.
Photograph By DIEGO REYNA
Edinburg posted the lowest unemployment rate among the Valley’s major communities for the month of November 2015, coming in at 4.8 percent, which was the best showing for the city for that month since November 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy. The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Harvey Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members. Richard García and Agustín García, Jr. are not related. In addition to Edinburg posting the lowest unemployment rate in the Valley for November 2015, Edinburg and McAllen shared the lowest unemployment rates in October and September (4.9 percent for each month). Also according to the latest data, which was released on Friday, December 18, 2015 by the Texas Workforce Commission, there were 35,674 people employed in Edinburg during the month of November 2015. Edinburg’s latest showing was better than the U.S. unemployment rate for November 2015, which came in at 5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000). Edinburg’s November 2015 figure of 4.8 percent continues a year-long pattern of positive reports: October (4.9 percent); September (4.9 percent); August (5.1 percent); July (5.4 percent); June (5.1 percent); May (4.8 percent); April (4.6 percent); March (4.8 percent); February (4.8 percent); and January (5.1 percent). EEDC Board President Iglesias said the good news on the city’s workforce came a day before the Valley celebrated the first class of university graduates from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, which has its main campus in Edinburg. “UT Rio Grande Valley, which represents the combination of what formerly were two independent Valley campuses, UT Pan American in Edinburg and UT Brownsville, celebrated yet another landmark first with the December 19 commencement ceremonies under its new and proud name, which went into effect during the Fall 2015 semester,” said Iglesias. The Edinburg campus of UTRGV hosted two ceremonies for a total of 1,456 graduates at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, while the Brownsville campus had its own ceremony that morning for 633 graduates at its Student Union Building, according to UTRGV officials. “Many of these graduates will find jobs here in Edinburg and the Valley, while others will take their talents and skills throughout our nation,” Iglesias continued. “Wherever these outstanding graduates go, they will be incredible ambassadors for Edinburg and the Valley because here is where they earned a world-class education, and they will proudly let everyone know about where they came from and who we are.” Mayor García helped lead the Edinburg City Council in its successful lobbying efforts before the Texas Legislature in 2013 that resulted in the establishment of UTRGV and the creation of a School of Medicine. “Also during this holiday season, we learned that the School of Medicine, which will open a major campus in Edinburg next fall, received a $1,065,510 grant to improve the mental health of hundreds of young people in our region,” the mayor reported. “Such generous contributions, such as this one that comes from the Methodist Health Care Ministries of South Texas, Inc., means people remain employed to deliver these vital services, and that makes for a better and healthier quality-of-life and stronger economy.” The grant will support UTRGV School of Medicine in providing and enhancing integrated care to improve the mental health outcomes of high-risk, high-acuity children and adolescents in the Valley. The November 2015 unemployment rate of 4.8 percent for Edinburg is also better than the annual unemployment rate in Edinburg for 2014, which was 5.8 percent – and that yearly rate was the best 12-month average from January through December since 2008. Edinburg’s annual unemployment rates since 2005, which is the year in which the state government began preparing those figures using a more accurate formula, according to the Texas Workforce Commission, have registered as follows: 2014 (5.8 percent); 2013 (6.9 percent); 2012 (7.5 percent); 2011 (8.4 percent); 2010 (8.2 percent); 2009 (6.8 percent); 2008 (4.9 percent); 2007 (4.7 percent); 2006 (5.2 percent); and 2005 (4.9 percent).
Featured, from left: Harvey Rodríguez, Vice President, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors; Ellie M. Torres, Secretary/Treasurer, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors; Nelda Ramírez, Assistant Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; and Agustín García, Jr. Executive Director, Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, on Monday, December 14, 2015, when the EEDC hosted a holiday celebration for area residents at its headquarters, located at 101 North 10th Avenue. Photograph By DIEGO REYNA
By his own admission, Harvey Rodríguez, the Vice President of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, says as a younger man, the thought of serving on a city board was not even a passing thought, even though today, his leadership roles in public service also include his status as chairman of the Recreation and Park Board in Edinburg. “Did I ever feel that I would be 33 years old and be serving on the EEDC Board of Directors? If you asked me 10 years ago, there was no way,” said Rodríguez, the youngest appointee on the five-member EEDC Board of Directors. “But I relish this opportunity. I appreciated everyone who supported me through it, and now I have a chip on my shoulder to show that I am extremely capable. I wake up with that attitude every day.” The EEDC, of which Agustín García, Jr. is Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. The EEDC Board of Directors is comprised of Mark Iglesias as President, Rodríguez as Vice President, Ellie M. Torres as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Richard García and Richard Ruppert as Members. The mayor and the EEDC executive director are not related. Rodríguez, selected last May by Mayor Pro Tem Homer Jasso, Jr., for a two-year term on the influential EEDC governing board, said his appointment should serve notice to younger adults in the city that their ideas and experiences are essential to the successful running of municipal government and business development in Edinburg. With more than 50 percent of Edinburg’s estimated population of 77,100 aged 29 years and younger as of 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau – and more than 20 percent of the city’s population made up of residents aged 18 to 29 years – Rodríguez inspires residents as young as high school students to set their sights high, beginning with becoming involved with as many role models, community leaders, and business officials as possible. “I always encourage every high school student that if you can get a college scholarship anywhere, they have to go,” said Rodríguez. “There is a lot more outside of the Valley that I exposed myself to through college and travel, so I always tell people to go out there and meet new people.” But don’t stop there, his advice continued. “As cliché as it may be, I would tell them not to take no for an answer,” emphasized Rodríguez. Rodríguez, whose extensive professional credentials include currently serving as South Texas Operations Manager for CAS Companies, LP, took his experience and insights on behalf of the city to a major convention, held in early November 2015 in Dallas, of the International Council of Shopping Centers. Mayor Pro Tem Jasso, along with City Councilmember David Torres, his wife, Ellie Torres, who is Secretary/Treasurer of the EEDC Board of Directors, as well as Agustín García, Jr., the EEDC Executive Director, Letty Reyes, EEDC Director of Business Development & Public Affairs, Diego Reyna, EEDC Research Analyst, and then-Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Jr., also participated in the three-day event, held on Wednesday, November 4, through Friday, November 6, 2015. The gathering was billed by organizers “as a great opportunity for owners, developers, retailers, brokers, lenders, municipalities, property asset managers and product and service providers to gather under one roof to exhibit, make deals and form successful partnerships.” Edinburg continues to build its reputation as a potential successful market in the eyes of many major retailers, Rodríguez contended, saying he and the city delegation who went to Dallas had more than enough evidence to back up their civic pride. “They know we are a booming market. They know the disposable income (personal income after taxes) in the Valley regardless of the incorrect image that some national news media say about us,” he said. But the city’s selling points speak for themselves, he added. “The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the UT School of Medicine set to open next fall, our ongoing construction projects such as the Bert Ogden Arena, the 9,400-seat soccer stadium for the Rio Grande Valley Toros professional soccer team, our major transportation corridors including Interstate Highway 69, Tres Lagos, the planned 2,571 acre master-planned community that will be located in the Edinburg school district and which will feature a future campus of Texas A&M University, and more,” Rodríguez recalled the growing and long list of reasons why businesses should stay, expand, or locate to Edinburg. “These achievements make it so much easier to show retail developers and other prospective employers why Edinburg is the place to be.”
Featured, from left: Caleb Ezra Canales, one of the children of Rep. Terry Canales and his wife, Erika; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; and Ramiro Peña, a graduate student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, showcasing a unique Christmas Tree ornament, produced by Peña, which is now part of the 26-foot Christmas Tree on display at the Texas Capitol.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Thousands of holiday visitors to the House of Representatives chamber at the Texas Capitol are getting a good look at what South Texas has to offer, thanks to a one-of-a-kind ornament now gracing the impressive, 26-foot Christmas Tree set up by state legislative leaders, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced. As part of the tree’s Texas symbolism, each state representative was invited to commission a constituent to decorate an ornament that reflects the unique character of his or her district. For Canales, whose House District 40 justifiably boasts an abundance of talented artists, Ramiro Peña, a graduate student working towards his Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, was chosen for the honor. “It was not an easy decision because the impressive list of outstanding artists in my House District and in the Valley is long and proud,” Canales explained. “In the end, Ramiro was a perfect choice because he also represents the creativity, bold vision, originality, skills, and independence that are hallmarks of his profession.” Canales sought from Peña an ornament that would showcase the character of House District 40, which include portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. Peña’s skills, as well as his desire to promote his adopted home region (he is originally from Salinas, California, but now calls Donna home for him and his family) are clearly evident in the admirable images on the ornament that Peña crafted for the House District 40 Christmas Tree ornament. “At the heart of District 40, the establishment of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, the home to a School of Medicine which will transform future students in education, research, and healthcare, is depicted on the ornament by the landscape of the UTRGV Admission Building in Edinburg,” Peña described. The House District 40 Christmas Tree ornament “also portrays the agribusiness of the area through the vast fields of cotton and orange trees (along with) the image of the Monarch butterfly, which represents the unique migration from Mexico to Canada,” Peña continued. “The Altamira Oriole sits atop a cotton plant demonstrating one of 500 birds species found in nine birding sites of the World Birding Center, including the one in Edinburg.” UTRGV, whose main campus is in Edinburg, and which next fall will open the School of Medicine, also at the Edinburg campus, are located in Canales’ House District 40. Canales was a co-sponsor in 2013 of the historic law, Senate Bill 24 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveria, D-Brownsville, which combined the resources of UT-Pan American, UT-Brownsvlle, and the UT Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg and Harlingen into UTRGV and the School of Medicine. “I was so impressed with Ramiro Peña’s creation, which highlighted higher education and agriculture, which are very important aspects – and strengths – of House District 40 and Texas,” said Canales. “But I am equally impressed by Ramiro and his wife, Alma, because they represent the tremendous values of integrity, hard work, courage, and achievement that make up the character of the people of South Texas.”Peña is the epitome of a non-traditional student – married, with children, 45 years old, and with a two-decade career behind him, according to Melissa Vásquez, who is a member of the UTRGV media team. “His wife, Alma, a first-grade teacher in Weslaco, told him it was her turn to help him achieve his dream of earning a degree and pursue his love of art. So he quit his 19-year job at Magic Valley Electric Cooperative and became a college student again, studying 2D art and taking every opportunity offered to enhance his craft – from studying abroad in Italy to working with art professors to perfect his style, which he refers to as ‘realism,’” Vásquez said. Canales, who shares credit with his wife, Erika, a business owner, for his successes, said he was moved by Ramiro Peña acknowledging the powerful roles that a spouse or other loved ones play in a person’s life. “With my wife’s encouragement, I decided to take that leap of faith and come back to school,” Peña said. “It was a difficult decision, because I had my doubts,” Peña told Vásquez. “At the time, Alma (a first-grade teacher in Weslaco) was making more money than I was and told me it was time for me to go off and get my degree. She told me, ‘I will support you.’”
Featured, from left: Former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles Villarreal, D-McAllen, who serves as Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; McAllen Mayor Jim Darling; and Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission. The three South Texas leaders were participating in a legislative reception hosted by the Pharr Economic Development Corporation and the Rio Grande Valley Partnership at the PEDC headquarters on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.
Photograph By ISMAEL GARCÍA
Texas voters in a statewide election would have the power to require that women receive half of all gubernatorial appointments to powerful state boards, commissions, and agencies, such as the Texas Transportation Commission and The University of Texas System Board of Regents, under legislation being developed by Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., Mission. There are more than 200 state boards, commissions and agencies whose members are appointed by the governor, with the consent of the Senate. “I believe Texas is ready to take this remarkable step forward in democracy, and in doing so, show the world what we are doing to make sure that women are equal to men in legal, political and social rights,” said Muñoz. Women are underrepresented on most state boards and commissions which require gubernatorial appointees, and many of the state agencies they help lead have annual operating budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars, up to $10 billion and even higher. Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has the opportunity to demonstrate his support for women by endorsing Muñoz’ plan, which would most affect one of a governor’s most significant legislative powers. “I encourage Gov. Abbott to support my plan because it affects his office specifically, but more important, it is the right thing to do,” said the House District 36 lawmaker. Muñoz said the idea was brought to him by David A. Díaz, a legislative consultant from McAllen. Díaz and Miriam Martínez had worked together on the issue when Martínez, a South Texas broadcast journalist and business owner, ran for Texas governor, seeking the Republican Party nomination in March 2014, which was won by Abbott. Martínez said if elected governor, her gubernatorial appointments would be been divided evenly between women and men, and she would have asked for a statewide vote to make that practice a permanent requirement. “My duties as a state lawmaker include searching out and recognizing bold ideas from the people of Texas, and helping transform their vision into the laws of the land,” said Muñoz. “I happen to also agree with the famous remarks by Sen. Robert Kennedy: “‘Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?’ This is my inspiration for all legislation.” Muñoz said his proposal is not a quota, which favors one group at the expense of another. “Under this plan, a majority, in this case, men, would not lose out to a minority – women – because the population of Texas is, and most likely will always be, about half men and half women,” Muñoz said. “Any Texas governor would find no problem whatsoever finding women who are very qualified for half of all gubernatorial appointments.” The UT System Board of Regents, which is currently operating under a $16.9 billion budget for Fiscal Year 2016, has two women and seven men on that governing board. The Texas A&M System Board of Regents, which is currently operating under a $4.2 billion budget for Fiscal year 2016, has two women and seven men on that governing board. The Texas Ethics Commission, which is responsible for administering and enforcing laws that require financial disclosures of state lawmakers and legislative employees, has one woman on its eight-member commission. The Texas Department of Transportation, which has a $23 billion two-year budget, is governed by the five-member – and all male – Texas Highway Commission. Only three women have been appointed to this powerful commission since 1993. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, a seven-member board which oversees the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and its 2016-17 $719 million budget, is comprised of all men. The three-term lawmaker, who serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, which shapes the state’s $209 billion, two-year budget, said his proposal is consistent with his professional and legislative work. “I am a champion for women, who make up half of our adult population, with a proven record of promoting equal pay for equal work, and through my leadership roles on the House Appropriations Committee, supported and voted for hundreds of millions of dollars for women’s health care, protecting victims of family violence, and much more,” said Muñoz. Since the appointment power of the governor is provided the the state constitution, it would require the Texas Legislature, when lawmakers return in January 2017 for its five-month regular session, to approve Muñoz’ plan, which would authorize a state constitutional amendment to be decided by voters in a statewide election. Muñoz’ proposed constitutional amendment and resulting election would have to be approved by two-thirds of the members of the Texas House of Representatives and the Texas Senate. Then, more than 50 percent of the vote by the public in a statewide election would be needed to make it law. “Under this proposal, if approved by the Legislature and Texas voters, every time vacancies occur in each state board, commission and agency which requires a gubernatorial appointee, the first vacancy shall be filled by a qualified woman, the next vacancy shall be filled by a qualified man, and so on,” Muñoz said. “This method will guarantee that women will receive their fair share of the most powerful gubernatorial appointments.”