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Rio Grande Valley leaders hope to rebrand region as 'RioPlex' to attract investment

Pedestrians in downtown McAllen on Oct. 31, 2021. McAllen and other Rio Grande Valley cities are trying to rebrand the area as "RioPlex" to raise the Valley's profile.
Jason Garza
The Texas Tribune
Pedestrians in downtown McAllen on Oct. 31, 2021. McAllen and other Rio Grande Valley cities are trying to rebrand the area as "RioPlex" to raise the Valley's profile.

McALLEN — Hoping to attract more investment into the region, elected officials and business leaders in the Rio Grande Valley are teaming up with their Mexican counterparts to try to rebrand the area under a unified name: the RioPlex.

Hidalgo County officials announced the marketing strategy last month, aiming to highlight the region's assets: four seaports, seven airports, 13 international bridges, more than 100,000 university students and approximately 2.8 to 3.5 million residents in the Valley and northern Tamaulipas.

"We wanted to make sure that we identified ourselves in such a way that we could compete with anybody else in the world," said Hidalgo County Judge Richard F. Cortez.

The effort came from the Hidalgo County Prosperity Task Force, an initiative launched last year to reduce the county's poverty rate by training and educating the workforce for "living wage" jobs. The task force includes a CEO group that gathered for a brainstorming session on how to make the region more attractive to outside investors.

Among the participating business leaders was Joaquin Spamer, founder of Commodities Integrated Logistics, an import and export company with warehouses in the Valley and in Reynosa, Mexico.

Spamer, who leads the CEO group, said cities on both sides of the border have focused on marketing themselves until now. Hidalgo County alone has 22 cities that have previously competed with each other to attract businesses.

"Each one of them, by themselves, is not attractive," Spamer said. "But when we put our efforts together and we market the region as a whole, then it becomes one of the most attractive places where you can do business."

The goal of RioPlex is to maximize marketing efforts by presenting a united front to promote the region. But to succeed, the CEO group identified some challenges.

Cortez said they realized that the Rio Grande Valley wasn't well-known internationally and where it was known, it had a negative perception at least partly because of border and immigration issues.

When the Rio Grande Valley finds itself in the news, the subject is often immigration, particularly as Texas leaders cite an ongoing "crisis" at the border as the basis for efforts such as Operation Lone Star — the multibillion-dollar initiative launched by Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2021 that has led to the deployment of thousands of state troopers and National Guard members to patrol the border.

Through RioPlex, Spamer said the task force wants to enhance the positives of the region and leave the negative to cable news.

"We are an economic powerhouse," Spamer said. "But the problem that we have is that every time that someone wants to talk about McAllen or Reynosa or Brownsville or any other city or any other area in the border, they only like to talk about the bad stuff and that's what we're trying to stay away from."

But it's not just immigration. Reports of cartel violence have also impacted business along the border.

The U.S. Department of State currently advises citizens against traveling to the state of Tamaulipas, which sits just across the border from the Valley, due to crime and kidnapping.

The advisory prompted a company to nix plans to open up manufacturing plants in McAllen and along the Mexican side of the border, Keith Patridge, president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, told city leaders in April.

The company went to Monterrey instead, Patridge said.

RioPlex echoes the marketing campaign that rebranded the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area as the “metroplex” in the 1970s. For North Texas, it was a way to market the area as a large urban area without the big city prices.

For the Valley, the RioPlex branding will be part of a broader “One Region, One Voice” marketing campaign by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a nonprofit that encourages collaboration throughout the Valley for economic development.

During an economic summit during which Valley leaders committed to the “One Region, One Voice” platform, Abbott applauded the initiative.

“The Texas of tomorrow is going to be built right here in the Rio Grande Valley,” Abbott said.

Marketing materials about the region will highlight the area’s successes, such as the arrival of a new cancer research center and the opening of a new pediatric hospital. They hope to debunk the narrative that the area is dangerous by inviting legislators and potential investors to visit and see the area for themselves.

"Through local efforts we will try to combat that" negative perception of the Valley, said Daniel Silva, president and CEO of RGV Partnership. But that will take cooperation from officials from all the cities within the region, who will be called upon to celebrate the successes of other cities on social media and other public channels.

Silva said the marketing campaign evolved to include northern Tamaulipas because the Valley’s economy is very dependent on maquiladoras — Mexican manufacturing facilities that have a parent company on the U.S. side.

“As RioPlex is said enough, we hope that people can start to correlate it to the Rio Grande Valley and northern Tamaulipas as a whole region,” Silva said.