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Edinburg and McAllen register the lowest unemployment rates in the Valley – at 5.2 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively – during June 2018

Featured: Dr. Christopher Vitek (at left), University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Associate Professor of Biology, and Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, spoke in mid-July in the Zika research lab on the Edinburg Campus, as Heather Hernández, a biology graduate student and lab manager, performed tests on pesticide effectiveness. Guerra and other guests toured the facility and got updates on important research UTRGV is conducting on Zika and other vector-borne diseases. The Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council, along with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and its Board of Directors, lobby the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents on matters that benefit and protect UTRGV and its School of Medicine, which have major campuses in the city.

Photograph By VICTORIA BRITO

••••••

Edinburg and McAllen register the lowest unemployment rates in the Valley – at 5.2 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively – during June 2018

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Legislativemedia@aol.com

Edinburg was edged out by McAllen for the lowest unemployment rate in the Rio Grande Valley for the month of June 2018, posting a 5.2 percent unemployment rate for that month, compared with McAllen, which registered a 5.1 percent unemployment rate for June 2018, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

But those two cities were the only ones in deep South Texas whose unemployment rates were under 5.3 percent, according the the Texas Workforce Commission, which released statewide figures on Friday, July 20, 2018.

For June 2018, there were 38,630 individuals employed in the city compared with 38,047 persons working in June 2017 – representing an addition of 583 jobs, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

However, Edinburg saw a decrease of 560 jobs when comparing the monthly total for June 2018 (38,630) and May 2018 (39,190), the Texas Workforce Commission also reported.

All other major Valley cities also reported drops in the number of jobs from May 2018.

The unemployment rate for Edinburg during May 2018  was 4.5 percent.

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

The Edinburg EDC, of which Joey Treviño is the Executive Director, is the jobs-creation arm of Mayor Richard Molina, Mayor Pro-Tem David Torres, Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr., Councilmember Gilbert Enríquez, and Councilmember Jorge Salinas.

The Edinburg EDC Board of Directors is comprised of Councilmember Enríquez as President, Edinburg School Board Trustee Miguel “Mike” Farías as Vice-President, Councilmember Salinas as Secretary/Treasurer, and Mayor Molina and Mayor Pro Tem Torres as Members.

The number of jobs in Edinburg is independently documented by the Texas Workforce Commission, a state agency with many key duties, such as maintaining and reporting on key trends in state and local economies, including unemployment rates and the number of people employed in cities.

The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed. To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

For the past several years, Edinburg has registered the lowest or second-lowest monthly unemployment rate among all Valley cities.

Edinburg’s June 2018 unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is part of a consistent pattern of positive reports, including the May 2018 unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, April 2018 (4.5 percent), March 2018 (4.7), February 2018 (4.9 percent), January 2018 (5.2 percent), December 2017 (4.8 percent), November 2017 (4.8 percent), October 2017 (4.9 percent), September 2017 (5.3 percent), August 2017 (6 percent), July (5.7 percent), June 2017 (5.6), May 2017 (4.9 percent), April 2017 (4.8 percent), March 2017 (5.4 percent), February 2017 (5.9 percent) and January 2017 (6.1 percent).

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, for the month of June 2018, these are the employment figures for the seven largest cities in the Valley:

Brownsville: 70,955
McAllen: 62,869
Edinburg: 38,630
Mission: 32,145
Pharr: 28,253
Harlingen: 23,362
Weslaco: 14,549

CITY’S MONTHLY, ANNUAL UNEMPLOYMENT REMAIN AMONG BEST IN VALLEY

Edinburg’sJune2018 unemployment rate and the latest figures from the Valley’s most populated cities follow:

McAllen: 5.1 percent
Edinburg: 5.2 percent
Harlingen: 6.4 percent
Mission: 6.6 percent
Brownsville: 7.1 percent
Pharr: 7.9 percent
Weslaco: 8.5 percent

The state’s unemployment rate in June 2018 was 4.2 percent, compared with 4.5 percent in June 2017.

The U.S. unemployment rate in June 2018 was 4percent, compared with 4.3 percent the same month the previous year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000).

Edinburg’s annual unemployment rate for 2017 compared favorably with the Valley’s other major cities:

The annual unemployment rate in McAllen for 2017 was 5.1 percent;
The annual unemployment rate in Edinburg for 2017 was 5.3 percent;
The annual unemployment rate in Harlingen for 2o17 was 6.4 percent;
The annual unemployment rate in Mission for 2o17 was 6.8 percent;
The annual unemployment rate in Brownsville for 2017 was 7.2 percent;
The annual unemployment rate in Weslaco for 2o17 was 8 percent; and
The annual unemployment rate in Pharr for 2o17 was 8.1 percent.

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: 2017 (5.3 percent), 2016 (5.8 percent), 2015 (5 percent), 2014 (5.8 percent), 2013 (7 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).

Edinburg’s 2018employment, by month, follows:

June: 38,630
May: 39,190
April: 39,205
March: 39,203
February: 38,964
January: 38,514

Edinburg’s 2017 employment, by month, follows:

December: 38,595
November: 38,396
October: 38,181
September: 38,007
August: 37,442
July: 37,237
June: 38,047
May: 38,317
April: 38,407
March: 38,160
February: 37,895
January: 37,738

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission, the major cities in the four-county Valley have recorded the following monthly unemployment rates in 2017,  2016, and 2015:

••••••

McALLEN

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 5.1 percent
May: 4.5 percent
April: 4.8 percent
March: 5 percent
February: 4.9 percent
January: 5 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 4.4 percent
November: 4.5 percent
October: 4.4 percent
September: 4.7 percent
August: 5.4 percent
July: 5.4 percent
June: 5.4 percent
May: 5.1 percent
April: 5 percent
March: 5.4 percent
February: 5.8 percent
January: 5.8 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.1 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 5.4 percent
November: 5.1 percent
October: 5.3 percent
September: 5.8 percent
August: 6 percent
July: 6 percent
June: 5.8 percent
May: 4.9 percent
April: 5 percent
March: 5.1 percent
February: 5 percent
January: 5.2 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.4 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate 2015

December: 4.5 percent
November: 4.8 percent
October: 4.9 percent
September: 5.1 percent
August: 5.2 percent
July: 5.6 percent
June: 5.4 percent
May: 4.9 percent
April: 4.5 percent
March: 4.7 percent
February: 4.8percent
January: 5.2 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5 percent

EDINBURG

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 5.2 percent
May: 4.5 percent
April: 4.5 percent
March: 4.7 percent
February: 4.9 percent
January: 5.2 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 4.8 percent
November 2017: 4.8 percent
October 2017: 4.9 percent
September 2017: 5.3 percent
August: 6 percent
July: 5.7 percent
June: 5.6 percent
May: 4.9 percent
April: 4.8 percent
March: 5.4 percent
February: 5.9 percent
January: 6.1 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.3 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016 

December: 5.7 percent
November: 5.6 percent
October: 5.7 percent
September: 6.2 percent
August: 6.2 percent
July: 6.4 percent
June: 6.3 percent
May: 5.2 percent
April: 5.3 percent
March: 5.5 percent
February: 5.3 percent
January: 5.7 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.8 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate 2015

December: 4.7 percent
November: 4.6 percent
October: 4.9 percent
September: 5 percent
August: 5.4 percent
July: 5.7 percent
June: 5.5 percent
May: 5.1 percent
April: 4.6 percent
March: 4.8 percent
February: 4.9 percent
January: 5.2 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5 percent

••••••

HARLINGEN

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 6.4 percent
May: 6 percent
April: 5.8 percent
March: 6.1 percent
February: 6.2 percent
January: 6 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 5.4 percent
November: 5.9 percent
October: 5.5 percent
September: 5.9 percent
August: 6.7 percent
July: 6.7 percent
June: 6.6 percent
May: 6.2 percent
April: 6.3 percent
March: 6.8 percent
February: 7.1 percent
January: 7 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.4 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 6.2 percent
November: 6.1 percent
October: 6.4 percent
September: 6.5 percent
August: 6.6 percent
July 2016: 6.3 percent
June 2016: 6.3 percent
May 2016: 5.7 percent
April 2016: 5.7 percent
March 2016: 5.8 percent
February 2016: 5.8 percent
January 2016: 5.7 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.1 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 5.3 percent
November: 5.6 percent
October: 5.7 percent
September: 5.9 percent
August: 6.2 percent
July: 6.4 percent
June: 6.4 percent
May: 6 percent
April: 5.5 percent
March: 5.7 percent
February: 5.9 percent
January: 6.5 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.9 percent

••••••

MISSION

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 6.6 percent
May: 5.6 percent
April: 6 percent
March: 6.1 percent
February: 6 percent
January: 6.4 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 5.7 percent
November: 5.7 percent
October: 5.7 percent
September: 6.4 percent
August: 7.1 percent
July: 7.2 percent
June: 7.2 percent
May: 6.3 percent
April: 6.6 percent
March: 7.2 percent
February: 7.7 percent
January: 8.3 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.8 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 7.4 percent
November: 7.1 percent
October: 6.9 percent
September: 7.3 percent
August: 7.6 percent
July: 7.9 percent
June: 7.8 percent
May: 6.8 percent
April: 7.1 percent
March: 7.4 percent
February: 7.3 percent
January: 7.6 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 7.4 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015 

December: 6.1 percent
November: 6.1 percent
October: 6.1 percent
September: 6.1 percent
August: 6.4 percent
July: 6.7 percent
June: 6.7 percent
May: 6.1 percent
April: 5.7 percent
March: 5.8 percent
February: 5.9 percent
January: 6.4 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.2 percent

••••••

BROWNSVILLE

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 7.1 percent
May: 6.1 percent
April: 6.5 percent
March: 6.7 percent
February: 6.9 percent
January: 7.1 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 6.1 percent
November: 6 percent
October: 5.8 percent
September: 6.6 percent
August: 7.5 percent
July: 7.6 percent
June: 7.9 percent
May: 6.8 percent
April: 7.2 percent
March: 7.4 percent
February: 8.2 percent
January: 8.8 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 7.2 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 8.1 percent
November: 7.7 percent
October: 7.6 percent
September 2016: 8.2 percent
August 2016: 8.4 percent
July 2016: 8.5 percent
June: 8.5 percent
May: 7.1 percent
April: 7.1 percent
March: 7.3 percent
February: 7.2 percent
January 2016: 7.4 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 7.8 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 6.9 percent
November: 6.8 percent
October: 6.5 percent
September: 6.6 percent
August: 7 percent
July: 7.2 percent
June: 7.2 percent
May: 6.8 percent
April: 6.6 percent
March: 7.2 percent
February: 7.3 percent
January: 8 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: percent

••••••

PHARR

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 7.9 percent
May: 6.7 percent
April: 7.4 percent
March: 7.5 percent
February: 7.6 percent
January: 8.3 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 7.1 percent
November: 6.9 percent
October: 6.4 percent
September: 7.6 percent
August: 8.9 percent
July: 8.7 percent
June: 8.9 percent
May: 7.6 percent
April: 7.8 percent
March: 8.5 percent
February: 8.8 percent
January: 9.8 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 8.1 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December 2016: 8.9 percent
November 2016: 7.9 percent
October 2016: 7.2 percent
September: 8.2 percent
August 2016: 8.7 percent
July 2016: 9 percent
June 2016: 9.1 percent
May 2016: 7.5 percent
April 2016: 7.8 percent
March 2016: 8.1 percent
February 2o16: 8.1 percent
January 2016: 8.8 percent

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 8.3 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 7.2 percent
November: 7 percent
October: 6.4 percent
September: 6.6 percent
August: 7.3 percent
July: 7.6 percent
June: 7.4 percent
May: 6.5 percent
April: 6.2 percent
March: 6.5 percent
February: 6.8 percent
January: 7.6 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.9 percent

••••••

WESLACO

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 8.5 percent
May: 7 percent
April: 7.4 percent
March: 7.2 percent
February: 7.3 percent
January: 8.6 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 8 percent
November: 7.2 percent
October: 6 percent
September: 7.3 percent
August: 9 percent
July: 9.2 percent
June: 8.8 percent
May: 7.2 percent
April: 7.1 percent
March: 7.5 percent
February: 8.2 percent
January: 9.7 percent

2017 Annual Unemployment Rate: 8 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December 2016: 9.5 percent
November 2016: 8.1 percent
October 2016: 6.7 percent
September 2016: 8.3 percent
August 2016: 8.8 percent
July 2016: 9.3 percent
June 2016: 8.8 percent
May 2016: 6.8 percent
April 2016: 6.9 percent
March: 7.7 percent
February 2016: 7.5 percent
January 2016: 8.3 percent.

2016 Annual Unemployment Rate: 8.1 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate 2015 

December: 6.8 percent
November: 6.5 percent
October: 5.8 percent
September: 6.6 percent
August: 6.7 percent
July: 6.6 percent
June: 6.3 percent
May: 6 percent
April: 5.6 percent
March: 6 percent
February: 6.5 percent
January: 7.2 percent

2015 Annual Unemployment Rate: 6.4 percent

••••••

ADDITIONAL REGIONAL ECONOMIC STATISTICS

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission, the four counties in the Rio Grande Valley have recorded the following monthly unemployment rates in 2018, 2017,  2016, and 2015:

HIDALGO COUNTY

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 7.2 percent
May: 6.2 percent
April: 6.6 percent
March: 6.9 percent
February: 7.1 percent
January: 7.6 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 6.6 percent
November: 6.3 percent
October: 5.9 percent
September: 6.8 percent
August: 7.8 percent
July: 7.8 percent
June: 7.9 percent
May: 7 percent
April: 7.3 percent
March: 7.7 percent
February: 8.3 percent
January: 9 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Hidalgo County for 2o17 was 7.4 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 8.2 percent
November: 7.5 percent
October: 7.1 percent
September: 7.9 percent
August: 8.3 percent
July: 8.5 percent
June: 8.4 percent
May: 7.1 percent
April: 7.2 percent
March: 7.7 percent
February: 7.7 percent
January: 8.1 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Hidalgo County for 2o16 was 7.8 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 7.9 percent
November: 7.8 percent
October: 7.4 percent
September: 7.7 percent
August: 8.2 percent
July: 8.5 percent
June: 8.4 percent
May: 7.7 percent
April: 7.3 percent
March: 7.7 percent
February: 7.9 percent
January: 8.5 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Hidalgo County for 2o15 was 7.9 percent.

••••••

CAMERON COUNTY

June: 6.9 percent
May: 6 percent
April: 6.3 percent
March: 6.5 percent
February: 6.7 percent
January: 6.8 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 5.9 percent
November: 5.9 percent
October: 5.8 percent
September: 6.4 percent
August: 7.2 percent
July: 7.2 percent
June: 7.5 percent
May: 6.6 percent
April: 6.8 percent
March: 7.2 percent
February: 7.8 percent
January: 8.2 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Cameron County for 2o17 was 6.9 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 7.3 percent
November: 7 percent
October: 7 percent
September: 7.4 percent
August: 7.6 percent
July: 7.7 percent
June: 7.8 percent
May: 6.6 percent
April: 6.7 percent
March: 7 percent
February: 6.9 percent
January: 7.1 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Cameron County for 2o16 was  7.2 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 6.8 percent
November: 6.9 percent
October: 6.7 percent
September: 6.7 percent
August: 7.1 percent
July: 7.4 percent
June: 7.5 percent
May: 7 percent
April: 6.8 percent
March: 7.2 percent
February: 7.4 percent
January: 8 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate in Cameron County for 2o15 was 7.1 percent.

Also for June 2018, there were 321,293 individuals employed in Hidalgo County, while 156,757 persons were employed in Cameron County during the same month.

••••••

STARR COUNTY

June: 11 percent
May: 9.6 percent
April: 10.7 percent
March: 10.8 percent
February: 11.4 percent
January: 12.2 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 10.1 percent
November: 9.4 percent
October: 8.7 percent
September: 9.7 percent
August: 10.9 percent
July: 11.4 percent
June: 11.9 percent
May: 11 percent
April: 12.6 percent
March: 13.4 percent
February: 14.7 percent
January: 15.7 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate in Starr County for 2o17 was 11.7 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 13.8 percent
November: 12.7 percent
October: 12.1 percent
September: 13.3 percent
August: 13.7 percent
July: 14 percent
June: 13.9 percent
May: 12.1 percent
April: 13.1 percent
March: 14 percent
February: 13.5 percent
January: 13.8 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Starr County for 2o16 was 13.3 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 13.4 percent
November: 13.3 percent
October: 12.6 percent
September: 12.6 percent
August: 13.6 percent
July: 14.1 percent
June: 14.1 percent
May: 13.1 percent
April: 12.9 percent
March: 13.8 percent
February: 13.8 percent
January: 14.3 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate in Starr County for 2o15 was 13.5 percent.

••••••

WILLACY COUNTY

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2018

June: 11.8 percent
May: 11 percent
April: 11.2 percent
March: 11.1 percent
February: 11.4 percent
January: 11 percent

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2017

December: 9 percent
November: 8.8 percent
October: 8.9 percent
September: 9.6 percent
August: 11.1 percent
July: 12 percent
June: 11.7 percent
May: 11.3 percent
April: 11.7 percent
March: 12.1 percent
February: 12.5 percent
January: 12.9 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate in Willacy County for 2o17 was 11 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2016

December: 11.1 percent
November: 11.1 percent
October: 11.3 percent
September: 12.3 percent
August: 12.8 percent
July: 13.7 percent
June: 13.5 percent
May: 12.1 percent
April: 12.1 percent
March: 12.4 percent
February: 12.2 percent
January: 12.4 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Willacy County for 2o16 was 12.2 percent.

Monthly Unemployment Rate, 2015

December: 12 percent
November: 12.5 percent
October: 12.9 percent
September: 12.4 percent
August: 13.7 percent
July: 14.3 percent
June: 14.6 percent
May: 13.6 percent
April: 13.4 percent
March: 13.2 percent
February: 11.6 percent
January: 12.1 percent

The annual combined unemployment rate for all cities in Willacy County for 2o15 was 13 percent.

For June 2018, there were 23,153 individuals employed in Starr County, while during the same month, 5,586 persons were employed in Willacy County.

MORE DETAILED FIGURES ON NUMBER OF JOBS, UNEMPLOYMENT RATES FOR EDINBURG

More detailed information about the labor market and unemployment rates in Edinburg follows:

Edinburg 2016 Employment, By Month

December: 37,915
November: 37,704
October: 37,404
September: 37,124
August: 36,908
July: 36,569
June: 37,299
May: 37,635
April: 37,607
March: 37,447
February: 37,169
January: 36,776

Edinburg 2015 Employment, By Month

December: 35,984
November: 35,904
October: 35,530
September: 35,293
August: 35,108
July: 35,027
June: 35,683
May: 36,111
April: 35,872
March: 35,741
February: 35,544
January: 35,436

Edinburg 2014 Employment, By Month

December: 35,666
November: 35,686
October: 35,535
September: 35,173
August: 34,763
July: 34,611
June: 35,301
May: 35,529
April: 35,486
March: 35,301
February: 35,232
January: 35,049

Edinburg 2013 Employment, By Month

December: 35,099
November: 34,838
October: 34,323
September: 34,248
August: 33,921
July: 33,668
June: 34,249
May: 34,444
April: 34,495
March: 34,137
February: 34,121
January: 34,018

Edinburg Monthly Unemployment Rates, 2014

December: 4.7 percent
November: 5.2 percent
October: 5.5 percent
September: 5.7 percent
August: 6.4 percent
July: 6.7 percent
June: 6.5 percent
May: 5.8 percent
April: 5.2 percent
March: 5.9 percent
February: 6.2 percent
January: 6.2 percent

Annual Unemployment Rate: 5.8 percent

Edinburg Monthly Unemployment Rates, 2013 

December: 6.1 percent
November: 6.4 percent
October: 7 percent
September: percent
August: 7.2 percent
July: 7.6 percent
June: 7.7 percent
May: 7 percent
April: 6.4 percent
March: 6.9 percent
February: 7.2 percent
January: 7.3 percent

Annual Unemployment Rate: 7 percent.

Because of substantial methodology changes between 2004 and 2005 in estimating city unemployment statistics, Texas city data is not available prior to 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

Because of substantial methodology changes in geographic areas below the state level, data from 2005 and 2004 or earlier is not considered comparable, the state agency explains.

Effective in March 2015, the TWC also notes that “for all sub-state LAUS estimates, a break in series exists between December 2009 and January 2010 due to a change in methodology used. The use of caution is advised when comparing data from prior to 2010 to that of 2010-present.

The Texas Workforce Commission data on all entities in the state, including cities and counties, is available online at:

http://www.tracer2.com/cgi/dataanalysis/AreaSelection.asp?tableName=Labforce

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY FACULTY AND STUDENTS AT FOREFRONT OF ZIKA RESEARCH

In the aftermath of recent flooding in South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley faced major public health concerns with a growing mosquito population, which can lead to a potential outbreak of certain vector-borne diseases like the West Nile and Zika viruses.

To combat these pests, Dr. Christopher Vitek, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Associate Professor of Biology, and Dr. John Thomas, UTRGV Assistant Professor of Biology, and a group of dedicated UTRGV students have been working on research to address the Zika virus, not only in the Valley but across the United States. Their research is part of the work by the Western Gulf Center for Excellence for Vector-Borne Diseases, a multi-institutional consortium funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To showcase the inner workings of the university’s facility and research, UTRGV on Tuesday, July 17, 2018 opened up its lab in the new Science Building on the Edinburg Campus for a tour, where visitors were able to observe students and professors at work.

One visitor included Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, who was involved in the passing of House Bill 3576, which provides more resources to aid the Texas Department of State Health Services in tracking, monitoring and preventing the spread of the Zika virus.

“I am proud of the great work being done at UTRGV in response to this major threat to the public health of our community,” Guerra said.

Zooming in on Zika

During the tour, visitors saw how mosquitoes were tested and identified and how information was gathered. They also got to see the layout of the lab, which is divided into two sectors – entomology and pathology.

The west wing of the lab, led by Vitek and a team of student researchers, is dedicated to entomology, including counting and identifying the species of mosquitoes.

“This is where we work with the mosquito side of things. I always say I work on the dirty side of biology. Either my students or I are out in the field collecting samples. And we work with counting mosquitoes and identifying them,” Vitek said.

Heather Hernández, from Donna, a graduate student who serves as the lab manager of Vitek’s side of the lab, worked on sampling and testing insecticide resistance to certain chemicals, mainly permethrin and deltamethrin, on wild-caught mosquitoes from Harlingen.

Vitek said there are certain threshold levels in which mosquito populations become immune to certain chemicals, so testing is crucial. The goal is to kill the mosquitoes within 30 minutes to one hour of exposure to the pesticide.

“Permethrin has been working after 10 minutes,” Hernández told the tour group.

Once results have been collected, reports are compiled and sent to the state and the CDC, Vitek said.

In Vitek’s lab, students also work on hatching mosquito eggs collected from across the Valley. The mosquitoes live in a rearing facility and are used for studying.

“We try to keep our mosquitoes away from the lab as much as possible, to avoid potential escapes or someone getting bitten,” Vitek said.

In the east wing, Thomas works on the viral aspects of Zika. His students primarily do molecular work, including virus diagnostics in animal models, and ways to diagnose and test for the virus.

Thomas’ students extract viral RNA (ribonucleic acid – a molecule fundamental in biological coding, regulation, etc.) because the Zika virus is an RNA virus, he said.

“We have to extract all the RNA from a cell or animal tissue and separate the Zika RNA and the non-Zika RNA to look at the virus itself,” Thomas said.

“We will grow a monolayer of cells and infect the cells with the virus, and if there is virus, the virus will grow in a pinpointed location. This is actually how we count the viruses,” he said.

Juan García, a biology graduate student from Edinburg, serves as Thomas’ lab manager and is in charge of collecting mosquito samples from municipalities across the Valley.

“It takes a lot of patience,” García said.

Different Perspective on Research

In addition to the lab in Edinburg, Thomas said, his research utilizes the Brazilian opossum colony housed on the Brownsville Campus.

“We know that Zika can do all of these deleterious things to the human fetus, and we know that when pregnant mothers are exposed to Zika, there can be severe abnormalities with the children,” Thomas said. “One of the things we are looking at is, how does that happen?”

One of the most prevalent observations is the overall growth of opossums infected with the Zika virus, particularly in the sex organs, which have been halted in growth and development. When the Brazilian outbreak of 2015 occurred, microcephaly was the condition most notably associated with Zika births.

“During the outbreak in Brazil, there were about 4,000 children born with microcephaly. We have been so focused on looking at the brain part of it, no one has thought to look at what will happen to these children when they are ages 12 and older,” Thomas said. “Will they have their sex organs? Will they be sterile? We are just now starting to look at the interactions of the Zika virus and the sex organs.”

Discovery of that kind will take years of research, he said.

About UTRGV

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.

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Victoria Brito contributed to this article. For more information on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the City of Edinburg, please log on to http://edinburgedc.com.

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