Featured, from left: Verónica Reyna, Executive Assistant/Office Manager, US Citrus, LLC; Cheri Abraham, Ph.D., Operations Manager/Entomologist, US Citrus, LLC; Alonzo Cantú, Owner, Cantú Construction and Development Company, Chairman of the Board, Lone Star National Bank, and Member, Board of Managers, DHR Health; Congressman Vicente González, D-McAllen, who serves on the Financial Services Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C.; Mani Skaria, Ph.D., Founder, President and CEO, US Citrus, LLC; Anne Skaria; and Lorena González, on Monday, May 27, 2019, promoting Persian lime produced by the firm, which is located in Hargill northeast of Edinburg. (https://uscitrus.com/products/persian-lime-tree)
Photograph By ISMAEL GARCÍA
Alonzo Cantú, Texas business leader, political figure, and philanthropist helps headline US Citrus, LLC’s 1st Annual Employee Appreciation Dinner
If you could have anyone to a banquet, who would it be?
For Mani Skaria, Ph.D., Founder, President and CEO, US Citrus, LLC, who recently hosted his firm’s 1st Annual Employee Appreciation Dinner, he knew his staff members would be motivated and emboldened about business, public service, and philanthropy (charity) by learning from one of the best in those callings – the Valley’s own Alonzo Cantú.
In asking Cantú to visit with the US Citrus, LLC staff members during the dinner held on Monday, May 27, 2019 at the Hayashi Japanese Hibachi and Sushi Bar in McAllen, Skaria and his wife Anne valued Cantú’s life story of humble beginnings, hard work, education, perseverance, achievements, and giving back to the community.
“Alonzo Cantú is highly-respected and well-known in the corridors of power in business, politics, and public service. But what sets him apart, and one of the many reasons I wanted him to meet my employees, is because he is truly a ‘Man of the People’,” Skaria said. “Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem, ‘If’, applies very well to someone like Alonzo Cantú because he is, indeed, someone who ‘can walk with the crowd and keep your virtue, or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch.’”
(Joseph Rudyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He was born in India, which inspired much of his work. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rudyard_Kipling)
Cantú, born in the United States and the son of migrant farmworkers from Mexico, was inspired by his parents to become educated.
In doing so, he was able to leave field labor as a young man to become “a driving force in the transformation of South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley,” according to Wendell Brock, a staff writer for the University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business, who wrote a profile on the Valley native son in the Fall of 2015.
Cantú, (BBA ’78) is a graduate of the University of Houston, where he studied finance.
Almost four decades later, Cantú – among other monumental achievements – is the owner of Cantú Construction and Development Company of McAllen, a South Texas giant in that industry.
From custom homes to sophisticated hospitals and a university medical research center, to small and large private business facilities, even sports and entertainment complexes such as the privately-owned H-E-B Park and the City of Edinburg’s publicly-owned Bert Ogden Arena, Cantú has conceived and/or led many projects whose combined construction value approaches $1 billion, if not more.
Cantú’s far-reaching positive influence on the Valley’s quality-of-life is felt on a large-scale.
He is Chairman of the Board of Lone Star National Bank, which brands itself as “The Valley’s Bank” in its marketing campaigns.
However, according to the Texas Department of Banking, Lone Star National Bank certainly is at a statewide level, being designated as of March 2019 as the 41st largest bank in the Lone Star State, based on asset size.
Also, in 1999, Cantú and nine area physicians opened Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (now known as DHR Health), which is the region’s only physician-owned hospital, now one of the largest in the nation.
DHR Health, according to its president, Susan Turley, has made an estimated $4 billion economic impact in the Valley in the past 12 years.
Cantú uses his influence and connections at the state and national levels to help higher education in deep South Texas, according to Carlos Sánchez, News and Politic Editor for Texas Monthly magazine, and the former editor for the Monitor newspaper in McAllen.
“Last year (2017), when Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick visited the Valley, the Senate had just shortchanged its funding for UT-Rio Grande Valley’s new medical school. After Patrick met with Cantú, most of that funding was restored. That’s power,” Sánchez reported in his December 2018 Texas Monthly article, “Alonzo Cantú is Getting Politicians to Pay Attention to the Valley”.
Among the urgent advice shared by Cantú with US Citrus, LLC employees were his powerful recommendation that everyone should always continue learning, especially in the classroom setting.
In his appropriately titled story, “Cantú Can Do – Valley Businessman and Philanthropist Has Led Growth in Developing Region”, Brock, the University of Houston staff writer, chronicled the same theme.
“Cantú credits his remarkable success in large measure to his parents, who believed in the value and integrity of hard work and thought their children would be better served by getting an education in the (United) States,” Brock reported.
Addressing his audience at the US Citrus, LLC dinner, Cantú continued to express his appreciation to his parents, and for their wisdom and encouragement, in helping shape him into the man he has become.
“My parents told me about education, to get a college degree. They told us how important education is,” Cantú recalled. “Since then, I went to the University of Houston, earned a business degree, and helped my father with a construction company.”
Years ago, already having reached personal and professional triumphs, Cantú and his wife Yolanda easily could have moved out of the Valley to any of the most prestigious cities and regions in the nation.
But they stayed in South Texas, and raised their two daughters in McAllen “to improve the quality of life for everyone in the Valley.
“A lot of us together are helping the Valley grow,” Cantú told US Citrus, LLC staff members and their families. “Education is the key, with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, it’s School of Medicine, Texas A&M University. You have many opportunities in the Valley. Hopefully, some of you and your kids will go to college.”
He backs up his commitment with his time, expertise, and financial resources to help Valley residents obtain a college education.
Cantú was one of the founders of VAMOS, the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships, which raises money to help high school seniors from the Valley afford a college education.
“Since 1997 VAMOS has awarded more than $20 million, and they have fundraised close to $25 million,” said Roberto González, publisher of Texas Border Business and MegaDoctors News. “Their priority is making sure that all the funds go towards scholarship, and for students to receive a post-secondary education.”
VAMOS is expertly guided by a board of directors made up of titans of South Texas, including Cantú.
“They strive year-round to find donors and to find sponsors to give back to VAMOS,” Daisy Martínez, VAMOS executive director, in October 2018 told Texas Border Business and Mega Doctor News. “In past years, VAMOS has awarded a million dollars per year, but this year (2018), it was $1.4 million – the additional $400,000 came from Alonzo Cantú scholarship for (Valley students attending) the University of Houston.”
Despite his enormous accomplishments, Cantú proudly tells anyone who asks about his background that he came from modest means.
And that distinction, in Skaria’s mind, also made Cantú such a prized guest speaker for the US Citrus, LLC’s 1st Annual Employee Appreciation Dinner.
“The Valley is blessed to have many individuals who are very successful and who have never forgotten where they came from. They are proud to call the Valley their home, and want to inspire everyone to overcome challenges and defeats, to set and reach high standards for themselves and their families,” Skaria said. “Alonzo Cantú certainly is someone who has reached all of these very honorable, noble personal, and professional, principles and ideals.”
True to form, Cantú praised the employees, noting that their work with US Citrus, LLC “is pretty exciting, very different.”
US Citrus, LLC specializes in the production and marketing of specialty citrus plants and fruit, including its famous Persian limes. The Valley-based company uses a proprietary technology called Micro-budding for citrus plant production. Plants produce fruit much sooner than conventionally produced plants. The firm practices higher density planting (6-10 times more tree population per acre), which also results in reduced pesticide applications and environment-friendly practices – making it a role model in the delivery of high–quality products to the market, according to the company’s website (https://uscitrus.com).
Cantú applauded Skaria for creating US Citrus, LLC and its groundbreaking system for production of fruit.
“He is an innovator. He is working on something few people know about, but it is fantastic,” Cantú said, providing a powerful endorsement. “He has a great business plan, he has been very patient with his project. You can see his vision is tremendous. He has a great future.”
U.S. Citrus, LLC, a state-of-the–art enterprise, is located on a 550-acre site in Hargill, northwest of Edinburg, with the potential to produce large quantities of high-quality, disease-free citrus trees of many different varieties for sale.
Skaria, a renowned citrus plant pathologist and successful entrepreneur, and his family are longtime residents of McAllen. Mani and Anne Skaria are proud parents of son Rony T. Skaria, M.D., and daughter Amy A. Skaria, M.D.
Cantú, who received a gift box of US Citrus, LLC’s Persian lime at the dinner, said Skaria had developed a system that produces a fruit that is unsurpassed in quality.
“His Persian lime is better, juicer, and can be sold worldwide. There is a big market here in the United States,” Cantú said. “Because of his strategies and techniques, it’s a lot better fruit. It is a great product.”
The Persian lime is the most widely cultivated lime species commercially, and accounts for the largest share of the fruits sold as limes.
According to Mordor Intelligence service, the total value for Persian lime is forecasted to reach almost $3 billion by the end of 2021, with Mexico supplying 95 percent of total limes imported to the United States. Persian limes are grown in Mexico mostly to meet the export market demand, particularly in the United States.
Skaria said that with the modern and far-reaching scientific advances which have successfully been put into action by U.S. Citrus, LLC, the potential has significantly increased for the creation of a multi-billion dollar citrus industry in the Lone Star State.
Currently, the citrus industry, which is centered in the Rio Grande Valley, has an estimated $200 million annual economic impact in Texas. But Skaria is confident his way of producing citrus will have a huge effect on the region’s economic prosperity.
“Look at what the citrus industries have done in California and Florida. Tens of thousands of jobs now exist in California and Florida because of their citrus industries. The annual economic impact of the citrus industries in California and Florida are $8.6 billion and $7.1 billion, respectively,” Skaria noted. “To borrow a famous saying about another food industry, when we are talking about the potential for the citrus industry in Texas, we are not talking small potatoes.”
Cantú said US Citrus, LLC is an asset for a more prosperous economic future for deep South Texas because of the vision and work of the Skaria family, along with the support and expertise of investors and employees with the company.
“The Valley is changing rapidly,” Cantú said. “It’s good to see people like Mani creating jobs for the community.”
In addition to Skaria, Christopher W. James, a partner with US Citrus, LLC, sponsored the appreciation dinner.
Staff members with US Citrus, LLC as of the Monday, May 27, 2019 event were:
Cheri Abraham, Ph.D.; John Irick; and Verónica Reyna.
Jesús Gámez; Ania Resendiz; Cruz Gámez; Janie Gámez; Selina Sustaita.
Miguel Castillo; Fernando Cantú; Milton Martínez; Tony Niño; Isaac Rodríguez; Tony Roland; and Juan Sánchez.
Nelly Alaniz; Maurilio Chacón, Sr.; Maurilio Chacón, Jr.; Anna Cisneros; David García; Azucena Izaguirre; Sabrina Jasso; José López; Valeria Martínez; Yahaira Martínez; Adrián Mendoza; Iris Montalvo; Eduardo Nieto; and Matt Rodríguez.
For more information about US Citrus, LLC, please contact Mani Skaria, PhD at [email protected]. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).