FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Manny Vela, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Higher Education Center at McAllen, Texas A&M University; and John Sharp, Chancellor, The Texas A&M University System. Vela will be one of the keynote speakers during Futuro RGV: Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum, which is set for Thursday, July 13, 2023, from 8 a.m. to noon at South Texas College in McAllen.
Photograph Courtesy TEXAS A&M SYSTEM
Futuro RGV: Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum, free and open the public, set for Thursday, July 13, from 8 a.m. to noon at South Texas College
Seven South Texas leaders, with expertise in media, economic development, emerging technology, and higher education, will be keynote speakers during Futuro RGV: Building a Thriving RGV/The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force Forum, which is set for Thursday, July 13, 2023, from 8 a.m. to noon at South Texas College in McAllen.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in the South Texas College Ballroom, Building U., 3201 W. Pecan Boulevard, McAllen.
Registration will be from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and will include coffee and breakfast for participants as well as for the public. The forum will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
Advance registration is recommended through Eventbrite at:
For those who cannot make it in person, the gathering will be broadcast live and a videotape made available online on the respective Facebook pages of Futuro RGV and South Texas College.
“This is a Futuro RGV conference with partners South Texas College, Rio Grande Valley Partnership, and Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez presenting to our communities the vision and support that will be available with our Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force,” said Dr. Nedra Kinerk, President, Futuro RGV. “The emphasis is on our communities finding resources from our Hidalgo County leadership. We are stronger by working together and sharing resources and information.”
Futuro RGV is among numerous prominent public affairs organizations in deep South Texas. It began as Futuro McAllen as an advocacy citizen group in 1999 for quality-of-life issues that were in danger of being side tracked due to the tremendous growth taking place in that city.
Futuro RGV is a group of citizen volunteers who provide information regarding issues and concerns in deep South Texas.
“Our goal is to foster collaboration, share knowledge, and promote innovative solutions that contribute to the economic prosperity and overall well-being of Hidalgo County,” she added.
The Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force is composed of 13 subgroups that are focused on everything from providing social services to training career counselors to mentoring those undergoing job training to increasing the capacity of higher paying jobs in Hidalgo County.
In order to address the complex issue of poverty, Hidalgo County must create an environment in which people take care of one another, said Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortéz, who will give the closing summary at 11:40 a.m.
“We cannot have our welfare lines growing faster than our taxpayer lines,” Cortez emphasized. “If we don’t tackle this problem that is affecting Hidalgo County, then Texas is going to have many more problems in the future.”
“Futuro RGV was asked by Mario Reyna, Chair, Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force, to help put together this major session to inform people of the help available and being developed to improve the quality-of-life in our region, especially low-income individuals and families, and we agreed to do so,” Kinerk said. “Mario has done an outstanding job in his leadership role in making this event happen.”
The gathering will begin at 8 a.m., with registration and light refreshments and breakfast.
At 8:30 a.m., the welcoming remarks will be made, in the following order:
• Dr. Nedra Kinerk, President, Futuro RGV;
• Mayor Javier Villalobos, Mayor of McAllen;
• Dr. Ricardo Solis, President, South Texas College; and
• Alex Garrido, Board Member, Futuro RGV, who will provide information on the live streaming and videotaping of the event.
Adding to the many high-profile public and private figures who are confirmed or invited to attend are the mayors of the cities in Hidalgo County, who will be recognized following the opening remarks by Villalobos and Solis.
The keynote speakers, their topics, and the times of their respective presentations, are:
Aldrete Strategic Partners, LLC
TOPIC: Prosperity Task Force Marketing Plan
With decades of experience at the intersection of business, public policy, and politics, Eddie Aldrete is known for his advocacy efforts and relationship building. A seasoned journalist, he also recently launched a podcast, “Beyond the Bite,” a reference to the term “soundbite,” which is a short sentence or phrase that is easy to remember, often included in a speech made by a politician and repeated in newspapers and on television and radio.
“Beyond the Bite” is a podcast that goes beyond the headlines and sound bites to uncover the stories that drive the business community of San Antonio and South Texas. Hosted by Aldrete, each episode features real conversations with job creators, business leaders, and community pillars. Whether they are carrying on family legacies or breaking new ground, his guests offer unique perspectives on the economic drivers of the region.
Aldrete Strategic Partners, LLC features consulting services in the areas of public affairs, crisis communications, and strategic planning. Prior to establishing this firm, Aldrete’s extensive professional career includes: Former Senior Vice President at IBC Bank 2005 – 2021; Former Managing Director at Public Strategies, December 31, 2003 to September 1, 2005; Former Principal at Aldrete Communications, December 31, 1993 to January 1, 2004; Former President at Aldrete & Terrell Public Affairs, June 14, 1992 to January 1, 1994; and Former Director of Public Affairs at National Turkey Federation, July 31, 1989 to January 1, 1991.
Rio Grande Valley Partnership
TOPIC: Looking at the Future
Daniel Silva has spent the entirety of his professional career (2004 till current) in the public sector focused on economic development, transportation, education and job creation. He currently holds the following certifications: Certified Public Manager (CPM), which he obtained in December of 2015, Economic Development Finance Professional (EDFP), which he obtained in November of 2013 and a Professional Community and Economic Developer (PCED), which he obtained in March of 2009. Silva’s educational background includes a Master’s in Public Administration, which he completed in May of 2015, as well as a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods, which he obtained in 2004.
He also assists the Mission Redevelopment Authority as the Executive Director. Prior to his current position with the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, Silva was the CEO for four years and COO for six years, at the Mission Economic Development Corporation. Silva helped attract and retain businesses in the community as well as provide workforce training to the citizens of Mission. He also oversees a 55 thousand square foot coworking facility called the Center for Education and Economic Development.
Silva administered various training programs at the Mission EDC, such as a small business venture program called Ruby Red Ventures, and a computer programming initiative called Code the Town. Through the Ruby Red program, he helped micro businesses and start-ups grow and become more successful in Mission. Through Code the Town, he helped facilitate the learning of critical thinking, logic and reasoning skills through exposure to computer programming at the K-12 grade levels as well as for adults in the community. Under his leadership, the Mission EDC also provided 12-week boot camps in which students are provided instruction to prepare them for various CompTIA certifications. Vouchers for the exams are provided at no cost to the participants of the boot camp.
Dr. Kevin Peek
South Texas College
TOPIC: Future Industries for Hidalgo County
In a guest column published on Thursday, January 12, 2023 and coauthored by Dr. Kevin Peek and Dr. Ali Esmaeili, both leaders at South Texas College, said it is indispensable that public and private sector officials continue to prioritize policies and programs that contribute to the competitiveness of the local workforce with the goal of attracting more companies to the Rio Grande Valley. Fortunately, it looks like South Texas is moving in the right direction.
Much of the current work of local government agencies, economic development corporations (EDCs), institutions of higher education, workforce development commissions and multi-sectorial organizations like the Prosperity Task Force and Border Issues of Texas are collaborating in meaningful ways to ensure that the RGV’s workforce remains among the best and most competitive in the country.
Peek has worked extensively in both the public and private sectors, including founding the Trade Policy Research Group in 2003, located in San Francisco, California; documentary and investigative work in Mexico City, Venezuela, and Spain as chief economist with Peek Media; and extensive consulting on international trade policy.
He has held teaching positions at the University of Nevada, Vista College in Berkeley, North Western Michigan College, the Victoria College, and is currently employed as a professor of economics at South Texas College.
He has published articles on issues ranging from trade policy to regional trade integration, and has received awards for his work on documentary films on the NAFTA and FTA. Peek has held professorial and/or administrative positions at the University of Nevada, Vista College, North Western Michigan College, the Victoria College, and South Texas College (STC).
His experience with competency-based education (CBE) includes two-years as the Chair of the CBE Bachelors Program in Organizational Leadership at South Texas College, project director for seven separate grant-funded projects to develop competency-based education bachelor’s programs in different colleges/universities, and national recognition for his work in CBE.
Chief Executive Officer
Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP
TOPIC: Broadband & Economic Development Opportunities
In late December 2021, Sergio Contreras was appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to the Broadband Board of Advisors, which is providing guidance to the State Broadband Development Office, an entity situated with the Office of the Texas Comptroller.
This group is focusing on the expansion, adoption, affordability, and use of broadband service Broadband refers to various high-capacity transmission technologies that transmit data, voice, and video across long distances and at high speeds.
Since May 2022, as Chief Executive Officer, Contreras has provided financial and operational leadership, and at the direction of the firm’s Executive Committee and its Managing Partner, supported the development of the Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP’s short-term and long-range strategic plan.
(His CEO role does not include managing, overseeing or participating in the deliver of legal services by Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP.)
Previously, from October 2016 until August 2022, he served as President/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, promoting the economic and strategic strength of the Rio Grande Valley as one region in South Texas. The Rio Grande Valley Partnership, which is one of the area’s many influential business organizations, strategically advocates for its community-minded members to help make deep South Texas a better place to live and work.
Contreras was also Executive Director/Director of External Affairs for the Pharr Economic Development Corporation from August 2014 to October 2016. In that capacity, he was dedicated to broadening and expanding the city’s economic base, and supporting the economic goals of the Pharr International Bridge by facilitating industrial development investment. He also supported programs that fostered an educated workforce. As Director of External Affairs for the Pharr EDC, Contreras was responsible for monitoring state and federal government activities, and executing the organization’s legislative agendas.
From August 1995 to August 2014, he served as Regional Manager of External Affairs, covering the San Antonio and South Texas border regions, on behalf of AT&T. He was responsible for creating an environment that encouraged national and state legislators to adopt legislation that creates fair competition in the telecommunications industry.
He also promoted AT&T’s commitment as a leading corporate citizen by managing AT&T’s Foundation goals in South Texas. He also served as an ambassador for AT&T and advocated for the prosperity in Texas.
Dr. Rodney H. Rodríguez
Vice President of Institutional Advancement
and Economic Development
South Texas College
TOPIC: Workforce Development Opportunities
Dr. Rodney H. Rodríguez has vast executive level experiences totaling more than 25 years in corporate and post-secondary administration. During his professional career, he has achieved positions of increasing responsibility, as well as, maintaining his own consulting firm.
In January 2022, South Texas College announced that Rodríguez had accepted his current leadership role, and was charged with elevating the image of the two-county institution, connecting the college system to the region it serves (Hidalgo and Starr counties), and fundraising for student scholarships, among other major duties.
He is a key figure in helping South Texas College’s leadership launch a new era of unprecedented growth.
He provides consultation services to government, education, state, and private entities including management process improvement, system evaluation, and technical business services. Business services include grant writing, strategic planning, organization restructuring, leadership development, public relations, risk management, workers compensation, and federal/state program audits and monitoring. He says he is a strategist who seizes opportunities to enhance the effectiveness of systems and operations through operative leadership.
Rodríguez is experienced in grant writing for numerous proposals of different initiatives in being awarded more than $1 billion in state and federal funding during his career.
Vice President and
Chief Operating Officer
Higher Education Center at McAllen
Texas A&M University
TOPIC: Texas A&M Emerging Technologies
On Monday, May 15, 2023, Texas A&M University named Manuel “Manny” M. Vela, an attorney by profession, as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of its Higher Education Center at McAllen.
Vela came to the university from the Valley Baptist Health System, where he had served as President and Chief Executive Officer since 2012.
At the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen, Vela is focusing on complementing existing leadership in three primary areas: operations/infrastructure for the goal of doubling enrollment by 2028; the Colonias Program, which focuses on improving quality of life along the Texas-Mexico border; and university collaboration with South Texas communities and other Texas A&M System entities’ leadership in the region.
Prior to becoming president and CEO of Valley Baptist, Vela served as the health system’s Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer (2003-2011). During his tenure, he was involved with a variety of major corporate transactions, including the purchase of Brownsville Medical Center by Valley Baptist in 2004 and a joint venture with Vanguard Health Systems in 2011.
Now in its fifth year of operation, the Higher Education Center at McAllen offers undergraduate programs in agricultural economics, biomedical sciences, construction science, education, human resource development, engineering, maritime business administration and public health. The center currently enrolls 340 students.
Recently the university announced its School of Nursing and School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences are planning for program expansions at the McAllen campus. During a news conference in McAllen, Texas A&M President M. Katherine Banks showed renderings of the new facility which is slated for construction starting in 2024. Vela said this growth is emblematic of the university and system’s commitment to the Rio Grande Valley.
Associate Vice President
Workforce & Economic Development
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
TOPIC: Economic Opportunities
In his leadership role with the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Ron Garza oversees UTRGV’s Office of Workforce & Economic Development, which is a comprehensive portfolio of departments and programs dedicated to supporting cities and economic development corporations with the advancement of regional economic, workforce, and entrepreneurial development across the deep South Texas.
Prior to coming to UTRGV, Garza was unanimously appointed as Edinburg City Manager in March 2020 to provide leadership and day-to-day management of all operations of nearly 1,000 employees, a FY2019/2020 operating budget of $74 million, and an estimated population of 100,000.
From August 2016 to March 2020, he served as Executive Director, Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, based in Weslaco. His duties included serving as Chief Executive Officer of the state and federally designated Regional Planning Commission/Economic Development District and implementing executive level administrative, supervisory, and fiscal management necessary to conduct the day-to-day operations on behalf and for the benefit of the jurisdictions of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council and its governing Board of Directors.
Also with the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, Garza worked closely in collaboration with regional elected officials, administrators, and representatives of all local units of government to develop projects, initiatives and programs to improve health, safety, future planning and economic development for regional prosperity.
Following a break, which will take place from 10:35 a.m. to 10:50 a.m., the event will continue with presentations from six more distinguished leaders, each who will be representing various task force groups:
Noel De León, Executive Director, Pharr Housing Authority, who will present findings on housing.
Marisol Reséndez, Executive Director, El Milagro Clinic, who will present findings on health care/services;
Dr. Cris Nelson, Dean, Liberal Arts, South Texas College, who will present findings on higher learning.
Jaime Longoria, Executive Director, Hidalgo County Community Service Agency, who will present findings on financials.
Omar Rodríguez, Director, Grants and Government Relations, Food Bank of RGV, Inc., who will present findings on food insecurity.
Cortéz, the Hidalgo County county judge, will summarize the proceedings at the close of the forum.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).