Strength in numbers – Valley Partnership CEO Linda McKenna

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By Joe Louis Gomez

The Rio Grande Valley will be more effective and have a louder voice if we all begin to work together. Valley leaders must recognize that the region cannot be the third largest market in Texas until all communities come together.

This is the message from newly appointed Rio Grande Valley Partnership President and CEO Linda McKenna, who says the foundation of the Chamber is its power to bring together community and business leaders from across the Valley to help carry the message of opportunity and rapid growth in the region statewide and beyond.

“When I was given the opportunity for this job, it was a tremendous honor and I think it has been a perfect fit, said McKenna, who began at the Partnership last fall. “While healthcare is my passion, whether it’s as a clinician or advocate, this has been such a great opportunity for me to take those skills and relationships that I have developed over the years working in healthcare and apply them to promote the mission and goals of the Partnership.”

McKenna was appointed to her role at the Partnership in Sept. 2010, following the passing of longtime president Bill Summers, who died in Nov. 2009 after 22 years at the Chamber.

From supporting the development of Interstate-69 and other infrastructure needs, helping businesses to grow, and promoting the economic and strategic importance of the Rio Grande Valley as a region, McKenna said she carries forward the same concepts that Summers championed during his time at the Partnership. The importance of regionalism has never waivered, she said.

“If we all join together regionally, and represent ourselves as one region, we will be more effective and have a louder voice,” McKenna said. “If I approached this job with half the passion and energy that Bill Summers had, I’ll be fine.”

Beginning her career as a registered nurse at Valley Baptist Hospital in the early eighties, a natural affinity for volunteerism and working with the various non-profits in the Valley led to self-realization and further schooling. She eventually obtained a Bachelors Degree in Government, and Masters in Public Administration to supplement her background in healthcare.

A willingness to help others, combined with a vast network of professional contacts, business acumen and leadership ability led to her position at first, as a government affairs advocate for Valley Baptist Health System. Within the next few years she would work her way up to Senior Vice President, handling managed care issues, and physician organizations for the system.

“That has helped prepare me for this role,” McKenna said about the transition from Valley Baptist, to her position at the Partnership. “It has given me the opportunity to take my education, all of those relationships and experience and leadership skills to do more for the Partnership and the Valley”

McKenna’s background includes work in health care policy and advocacy, including involvement with the Texas Medical Association political action committee and respective campaigns. Her leadership roles include serving on the board of directors of the American Heart Association, Harlingen High School PTSA and the Cameron/Willacy County Medical Society Alliance. She was appointed to the Governor’s Commission for Women by then Gov. George W. Bush and was named Chairwoman her second term.

She currently serves on the Texas State Technical College Board of Regents. “While healthcare is a feel-good thing, it’s also a business. So, the leadership skills and experiences that you develop in one business, transfers,” McKenna said. “I think what is important for us at the Partnership is to listen to our members, and to hear what their concerns are, what their issues are, and take them out to the community and to legislators. It’s to ensure that we transform the voice of our members into action.”

The Partnership wrapped up its 18th Legislative Tour of the Valley at the start of the 82nd Legislation in January. The Tour is a chance for state lawmakers to see the Valley in person, and understand the unique challenges facing the region. The tour is crucial, as familiarity with the area is often reflected in the way lawmakers vote during the session, McKenna said.

“One of the visiting legislators told me his constituents are saying ‘let’s just shut down the border, and keep everyone out.’ We know that’s not going to happen, we know that can’t happen, and it’s certainly not going to happen in our region,” McKenna said. “What the Tour has done, is provide many of the freshmen legislators, who are possibly going to be there for years to come, with an opportunity to see a part of the state they have never seen before and to see the ties we have with Mexico.  They also develop a good working relationship with the Valley legislative delegation during their three days here.”

For the future, McKenna said she looks forward to continuing the push for economic development, quality education, infrastructure and working in collaboration with local communities. The Partnership’s sixty-six year legacy is a tribute to our regional approach which represents the vision of our Board of Directors, she said.

“I haven’t had any trouble at all transitioning. I see it as a tremendous opportunity. The vision and direction of our outstanding board members helps me decide what our organizational priorities are going to be,” McKenna said.  “This position has given me the opportunity to challenge myself and reach out beyond my comfort zone.”