UTPA assists Hidalgo County to develop economic development strategy
Posted: 01/26/2010
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A kick-off of the strategic planning process for the Hidalgo County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) was held recently at The University of Texas-Pan American.

CEDS, being developed through input from both public and private sectors, will incorporate results of an asset map of the region identifying its human, intellectual, financial, physical and institutional capital strengths, to help provide a roadmap to ensure the future economic vitality of the region locally and nationwide.

Pictured at the kick off of the strategic planning process for the Hidalgo County Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy held at UTPA are left to right Mike Blum, partner and managing broker with NAI Rio Grande Valley; Steve Ahlenius, president/CEO of McAllen Chamber of Commerce; Mayte Garrett, market director for Verde Corporate Realty Services; Ramiro Garza, Edinburg city manager; Dr. Daniel King, PSJA ISD superintendent; James Langabeer, UTPA vice president for Business Affairs; Dr. Fausto Meza, physician administrator with Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Rene A. Ramirez, Hidalgo County judge; and Mike Willis, vice president of Office of Business Partnerships with Texas Workforce Division.
The CEDS project - locally titled "IGNITE Hidalgo County" - and the asset map development was made possible by a grant received by the county from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration in 2007. UTPA was awarded the contract in early 2009 to put together the asset map and help develop the CEDS plan. The project team includes staff from the Division of Community Engagement, Dr. Aziz Zemrani, assistant professor in UTPA's Master of Public Administration Program (MPA) and a number of MPA graduate students.

"To develop the asset map, we looked at what do we have to work with here in Hidalgo County and what can we build on to promote jobs and economic development here," said Michael Uhrbrock, associate director of Economic Development in the UTPA Division of Community Engagement and the project director.

The process also includes the input of an 18-member Strategy Committee composed of economic and workforce development leaders, business owners, education and healthcare representatives, community organization leaders and media representatives.

A central data base of project and asset map information can be found at

The site includes a GIS-based asset map locator which shows locations of schools, airports, hospitals, bridges, industrial parks, major highways, commercial banks, workforce centers, etc.

"Hidalgo County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country and even in the recession there has been good continued growth in the economy. We found a lot of assets that the county has that can be built on as part of an economic development strategy," Uhrbrock said.

Some of the assets Uhrbrock cited included the region's geographic location on the U.S.-Mexico border, a strong transportation infrastructure, excellent climate, a young and growing labor force, a strong network of colleges, financial capital and a pro-business regulatory structure. Hidalgo County plans to focus particular attention on the health care industry, since it is currently the largest sector of the area's economy, as well as growth in manufacturing and research center development and education.

Hidalgo County Judge Rene Ramirez said it was important to have current data for the area in order to solicit companies to relocate or expand here or to successfully gain financial support from the state or other government agencies for projects to enhance area economic development.

Strategic Committee member, Dr. Fausto Meza, a physician administrator at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, said the creation of good jobs in the region was important to the health of its citizens.

"Prosperity and the health of the community are linked," he said.

Sylvia Quinones and Edgar Cantu, who are two of the three MPA graduate students selected to participate on the project, said the compilation of the asset map required a lot of data research, surveys and one on one interviews with people in the community. They both described it as a great opportunity for hands-on experience.

"We knew it was community-driven from the get go and we know we are helping to set the framework for what is about to come. We are learning a lot about research, how to read the numbers, planning, and public management," Quinones said.

The public is encouraged to participate in the public outreach component of the CEDS project. Precinct committee meetings will continue into February. A focus group event on business, education, and economic development and one on healthcare will also be held. An IGNITE Community Summit, which will be streamed live at both the UTPA and Hidalgo County Web sites, is planned for Feb. 22 at UTPA.

For more information, contact Cari Lambrecht, Hidalgo County public information officer, at 956/318-2600 or or Uhrbrock at 956/316-7185 or "