Right place, right time
Alvarez: We couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to address key issues this year
The Rio Grande Valley Legislative Tour couldn’t have come at a better time ahead of important key decisions being made in Austin, according to tour organizers.
At least 23 House members and five senators made the trip to experience the region first hand. For many, it was their first opportunity to see those areas of South Texas they have only heard of, according to the tour’s coordinators, who organized the three day event in Cameron and Willacy Counties. During that time, lawmakers were updated on major future developments including a second causeway to South Padre Island, a proposed medical school, as well as the numerous transportation projects taking place in the region.
This falls in line with the legislative agenda agreed upon by all the presidents and CEOs of the Valley Chambers in the four counties who will be aggressively championing transportation, healthcare, tourism, and renewable energy in Willacy County to lawmakers during their tour, which took place January 24-27.
“Whether it’s South Padre Island, or touring the various colonias along the border, the whole mission of the legislative tour served to educate those in Austin regarding South Texas, according to tour organizers with the Partnership.
“There are some specific legislators who came up to me and conveyed that if it hadn’t been for the tour, he would have never known the importance of a medical school for this area and how we are desperately in need of one because of how fast our region is growing,” said Partnership President and CEO Julian Alvarez. “They were not aware of the needs of South Texas until the presentations. We are all benefitting from the support of our legislators regarding healthcare and transportation. These are two of our main priorities which were addressed during the State of the State Address.”
Highlights of the Legislative Tour included a stop at Texas Recycling and Processing in Harlingen, where visiting lawmakers learned about the company’s method to recycle four to five tons of tires every hour into various products. Lawmakers also visited the Port of Brownsville and sat in on a presentation by rocket venture Space Exploration Technologies Corp., or SpaceX, which is undergoing steps to create a launch pad in Cameron County.
One of the biggest stops however, was also the most humble, according to Alvarez. The lawmakers’ tour included a customary trip to a colonia in Sebastian, near Raymondville in Willacy County. There, County Commissioner Dora Perez expressed her thanks to legislators during the last session who were able to assist with drainage issues through legislation affecting the most impoverished areas of the county.
“She (Perez) went into thanking them for all their support in the past. She spoke specifically about the fact that during the last session, they were able to assist with drainage issues that Willacy County had, and they were very grateful to them,” Alvarez said. That was the biggest thing to happen in Sebastian. It was having legislators from all over the state visit that small town.”
Originally started by the Partnership in 1975, the Legislative Tour of the Valley is a biennial tradition conducted at the start of every Texas Legislature. Rotating among the four counties every two years, the Partnership hosts a delegation of visiting lawmakers who then engage with the community on key issues facing the region including education, infrastructure, transportation, health, manufacturing, agriculture and international relations.
“We want to continue hosting these events. We want to continue showcasing the Rio Grande Valley as a growing region,” Alvarez said. “We want to share with them that we are to be reckoned with and we really appreciate the support of the business community to host something like this. We are just glad to be a part of it.”
Success may not be easy to measure, but the Partnership attributes funding for the Valley’s future Interstate-69 to the relations made during past legislative tours. During the last legislative session in 2011, the Valley was instrumental in obtaining a DPS “boat department” funded through the state, which was a direct result of locals advocating for increased security on the border.
“I would like for them to recognize that the Valley exists. Secondly, the Valley is not what others north of us think it is,” Alvarez said. “We are very safe. We are economically sound. We provide a strong workforce for our area. We have a large number of students who are not only going to college, but graduating. Our retention is high. Our labor market report indicates that the business community is very interested in what is happening in this area. You can see that there is plenty of growth. Tax sales are up. With retail sales taxes, everybody is doing very well right now. We are all experiencing increases.
“My message to lawmakers would be ‘do not forget about South Texas because we play a very integral role in what is happening not just in Texas, but throughout the country.’”