The South Texas-Mexico border region is experiencing tremendous opportunities and tremendous challenges, a top administrator at The University of Texas-Pan American said Thursday during the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's (CHCI) first-ever visit to the region.
Roland S. Arriola, UTPA vice president for External Affairs, provided an overview of the area to several members of Congress and more than 20 corporate representatives and community leaders. The CHCI is comprised of Hispanic members of Congress and corporate leaders dedicated to providing educational programs for Hispanic college and postgraduate students.
"This area is not static but growing, evolving and becoming a major crossroads," Arriola said. "This has created a lot of opportunities for us, and much of it started after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) was approved in 1994."
Overall, trade between the United States and Mexico has increased 202 percent, from $81 billion to more than $250 billion, from 1993-99, and Texas leads the nation in exports to Mexico.
In 1999 alone, South Texas-Mexico border ports processed 1.89 million trucks, 23.7 million cars and 8.6 million pedestrians.
Regionally, more than 7 million people live within 150 miles of the University, Arriola said, and the Rio Grande Valley has grown 34 percent, to nearly 940,000 people, since 1990.
The Edinburg-McAllen-Mission metropolitan statistical area is the third fastest growing in the country behind Las Vegas and Laredo, respectively, and it ranks ninth in job growth and business cost-of-living.
But that growth also presents challenges, Arriola said. For example, unemployment remains high, as Hidalgo County was at 12 percent as of December. But Arriola noted that thanks to the efforts of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa (D-Mercedes), unemployment has dropped from the 19-20 percent levels of a few years ago.
Increasing educational opportunities also is important in the region, especially for creating a better workforce. Hinojosa and other members of Congress provided much-needed assistance recently with a nearly $28 million grant to UTPA for a collaborative project with 23 middle schools in 12 school districts stretching from Rio Grande City to Brownsville.
"Our University is getting involved with the school districts to increase the level of education in our area, and that's one of our primary goals," Arriola said.
Arriola's presentation was part of a luncheon and symposium at the University Ballroom. Symposium participants included Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (D-Mercedes), Rep. and CHCI Chair Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso), Rep. Anibal Acevedo-Vila (D-PR), Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA), Rep. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Corpus Christi) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA).
Several events occurred during the retreat by the 51-member board of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, whose efforts complement the University's mission to be the premier higher education institution in South Texas through excellence in instruction, student performance, research, scholarly accomplishment and professional service.