Rio Grande Valley have long cringed when national media sweep into the area to report on major issues such as immigration and migrant detention, border walls and security and international trade. Often those reporters mention the Valley’s high poverty rate; they note high crime right across the border and assume some of it spills over the border — something that isn’t evidenced in Valley crime reports. They cite low academic achievement and high dropout rates.
The latest reality, however, increasingly belies such reports.
McAllen recently was named as the best place in the country to start a home business. JustBusiness.com, with prepared the report, reviewed such key factors as local tax rates, the cost of permits and fees and home prices among other factors.
The city and Harlingen also consistently rank at the top of the list of the most affordable places to live in the U.S. The two cities often rank first and second on the annual list, prepared by the Council for Community and Economic Research.
Harlingen also was a finalist this year for the All-America City award by the National Civic League, who gives the award to cities that have shown progress and an ability to overcome challenges.
This would have been the second All-America City award for the city, which also was recognized in 1992. And it’s not alone; other Valley cities to receive the award include Brownsville (twice), Edinburg (three times), Hidalgo, McAllen, Mission, Pharr and Weslaco.
Educational achievement also has increased dramatically. Public schools across the Valley have reduced dropout rates, and they are well augmented by strong support from charter schools. One of the nation’s top charter schools, IDEA Academy, began in Donna.
The regional approach to higher education is proving successful, as the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and its medical school rank high on several ratings lists, particular those that assess value and opportunities for minorities. UTRGV already has gained international respect through its gravitational wave research and top-ranked chess team, and the research arm of the medical school already has been awarded grants to study causes and remedies for several illnesses and issues, including COVID-19.
Local officials’ support for quality-of-life issues such a regional hike-and-bike network also have gained widespread praise and support.
Most importantly, such achievements are beginning to pay off. Quality of life is a factor many businesses consider when moving or expanding, and more appear to be looking toward the Valley. The Port of Brownsville is gaining much attention with regard to exporting cargo ranging from grain to natural gas, and heavy industry including shipbreaking and, most recently, shipbuilding.
Even the space race has a heavy presence in the Valley, with SpaceX at Boca Chica Beach and United Launch Alliance in Harlingen.
The coronavirus pandemic has stalled economic growth across the country. But as the viral threat subsides and the economic begins churning again, there is much reason to hope that the Valley will be able to ride the wave to a more prosperous future.