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Border City McAllen, Texas Prospers Despite Mexico Violence


McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge

McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge

A wave of criminal violence is sweeping across northern Mexico, especially in the areas that border the southern U.S. state of Texas. This has led to complaints from U.S. political leaders, including Texas Governor Rick Perry about threats to U.S. communities along the border.

But FBI statistics show cities and towns on the U.S. side of the border to have lower crime rates than most of those found in other parts of the country. One of the most prosperous and peaceful places on the border is McAllen, Texas, in the lower Rio Grande River Valley.

On the Mexican side of the border, violence has become commonplace as the Mexican government fights drug traffickers, kidnapping gangs, car thieves and bank robbers. Many businesses in cities like Reynosa have closed and many middle and upper-class Mexicans have fled to the other side of the border.

In McAllen, they find tranquil shopping centers and safe city streets. The McAllen metropolitan area, with more than half a million people, is ranked the 14th safest in the country, compared to other metropolitan areas of similar size.

But McAllen Economic Development Corporation President Keith Patridge says people in other parts of the country think the whole border area is dangerous.

"You would not believe the number of calls we get where the first question they ask is 'Is it safe to come to McAllen," said Patridge.

Not only is it safe, says Patridge, it is booming, despite the violence in Mexico and the recession in the United States.

"We were just recently recognized as the first city in the United States to reach pre-recessionary levels and the one thing we continue to be proud of is that we were one of the few metropolitan areas in the United States that has had positive job growth through the entire economic downturn," he said.

McAllen thrives as an agricultural zone, where many fruits and vegetables are grown year round. It also gets some tourism, especially in the winter months.

But a big part of the economy here is the management and support services established for the assembly plant sector on the Mexican side of the line, where Keith Patridge says around 100,000 workers make products to be shipped back across the border.

"We have a full spectrum of companies," said Patridge. "We do everything from computer chips, to motor boats and bowling balls."

Professor John Sargent

Professor John Sargent

Keeping an eye on local economic trends is part of what Professor John Sargent does at the nearby University of Texas-Pan-American College of Business. He says the economic growth in McAllen is impressive.

"If you look over the last 10 years and you look at measures such as job creation, this has been one of the most dynamic metropolitan areas on the U.S.-Mexico border and it is consistently rated within the top five nationally," said Sargent.

Sargent acknowledges that part of the growth has come from Mexicans with money fleeing the violence and investing in businesses on the U.S. side of the border, but he says that may not last.

"Five years from now Mexico might be the place to invest, and by having a foot on both sides it is going to be easy for that individual to take advantage of the upswing in Mexico when it comes," he said.

But such a turnaround in Mexico can only happen if the drug cartels stop fighting each other and the Mexican government eases its current offensive against them.

To some extent, drug trafficking is part of the cross-border trade that has gone on here for more than 100 years; a case of supply meeting demand.

Keith Patridge thinks things will improve in the next year or so as all sides tire of fighting.

"So I think ultimately what will happen is that it will settle down again," he said. "People will start establishing an equilibrium and we will go back to where we were before this all started.:"

That might be good for McAllen and the border economy, but the U.S. government will likely keep up pressure on Mexico to stop drug smugglers.

But whether the situation improves or not, the trucks are likely to keep rolling back and forth, keeping the border economy vibrant.

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