This year proved to be a successful one for the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation in a number of areas, and it has even bigger plans for next year. According to Raudel Garza, manager and CEO of Harlingen EDC, one of the areas that showed the most growth in Harlingen was in commercial development. The City of Harlingen added the Baxter Lofts Building, a high-rise housing development; opened the Harlingen Convention Center; completed a Homewood Suites; and started construction on the new Hilton Garden Inn, which will be adjacent to the Convention Center. There were also a number of new restaurants and shops that are up and running, such as Johnny Rockets, Cheddar’s, and James Avery.
The industrial sector also made great strides this year. Harlingen EDC worked with Poly SACHI Polymers to set up the relocation of the plastics firm to Harlingen Industrial Park from their location in Taylor, Texas. Garza emphasized further areas of expansion at Valley International Airport through the addition of new airlines, more frequent flights, and FedEx’s Express facility, bringing the airport up to rank as 71st in the nation in terms of cargo facilitation.
One of the primary goals for Harlingen EDC is bringing “primary” jobs to the area through private investment. The corporation’s website defines these jobs as “jobs created by employers that sell their goods or services outside the community,” such as those found in logistics, the industrial sector, manufacturing, and education. Garza explains that these jobs bring money from outside of the area and pour it into the local economy, so these sectors are the EDC’s target for recruitment and retention. Because of the city’s growth over the past couple of years, Harlingen’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.7-6 percent, and it is expected to drop even lower as Harlingen EDC continues to attract investors.
This year was a good year in terms of sales tax growth in addition to employment, Garza adds. Harlingen EDC is organized so that 3/8 of 1 percent of the sales tax generated, which amounts to a little over $4 million per year, is brought in for the EDC to market the community to outside companies and investors. One point of pride for Harlingen EDC this past year is one of its programs that incentivizes commercial recruitment through the refunding of generated sales taxes for retailers that meet certain requirements, such as relocating to or expanding within Harlingen.
Garza says that Harlingen is in a great location in terms of market accessibility, which opens the door to draw in more investors to the area. Harlingen is connected to major metropolitan areas through its airport, proximity to Mexico, the Port of Harlingen, and the interstate system. Harlingen’s low cost of living is another point of enticement for outside companies to relocate or expand their businesses. “Their dollar goes further here,” Garza said. This means more jobs for the citizens of Harlingen as new companies move here or opt for working with the local supply chain. “One of the things that a lot of people don’t know is that a lot of economic development is actually taking care of our own and making sure … to grow and expand and hire more of the local people.”
Harlingen EDC knows that this also requires investing in the education of the local workforce. This year, the EDC was proud to announce a collaboration between the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and Harlingen CISD for the Harlingen Early College High School program, offering dual enrollment courses. Garza highlights the importance of preparing the future workforce through higher education. The program will soon have its own campus that will additionally offer evening courses for the public through the university.
As a whole, Texas has the second largest labor pool in the nation. The labor pool in the Rio Grande Valley is highly competitive, particularly when it comes to access to ongoing educational support and training opportunities.
Texas State Technical College in Harlingen has been instrumental in providing essential technical education and training to boost the workforce. The institution provides real-world, hands-on experience to its students to prepare them for a well-paying career.
“TSTC’s main goal is to place more Texans in great paying jobs,” said Cledia Hernandez, TSTC Harlingen provost. “Our primary focus is student success and employer success. We want to make sure we help the employers of our region be more successful by getting the right talent and the right workforce prepared for them.”
TSTC plans to continue to launch programs relevant to the needs of its students and the Rio Grande Valley as a whole. That includes a lineman program coming in Fall 2020, plus incorporating performance-based programs.
The EDC has big plans for 2020 as well, specifically in terms of further business retention and expansion. Garza says that the EDC plans to focus largely on factors that attract new investors, including gaining funding for necessary road improvements, making sure the rail sector and Port of Harlingen are equipped to handle increases in cargo shipments to and from Mexico, maximizing passenger and cargo capacities at the airport, and enhancing the amenities in the Harlingen Industrial Park, among other endeavors to continue helping Harlingen to thrive as a community.