Vela: Now is the time for Rio Grande Valley entities to collaborate

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PHARR, Texas – Manny Vela, vice president and chief operating officer for Texas A&M McAllen, said the excitement in the room during a panel discussion about higher education at the recent IWS3 was palpable.

Vela was joined on stage by South Texas College President Ricardo Solis and UT-Rio Grande Valley Associate Vice President for Workforce and Economic Development Ron Garza. The moderator was Interlink Trade Service President Jorge Torres. The event was co-hosted by the Pharr Bridge Board and Pharr Economic Development Corporation.

“The excitement that you hear from us is real. The excitement, I hope, is palpable. But most importantly, I hope it’s contagious. Not necessarily for you all. You already have that sense of excitement because you’re here today,” Vela said.

“But spread this word. We are so well positioned in the (Rio Grande) Valley to do very, very well. To do even better than we’ve already done.”

Vela noted that he and STC President Solis were recently in Rio Grande Cit for an event hosted by Starr County Industrial Foundation.

“We were emphasizing to them… just look at the improvements that have been made in South Texas, the Rio Grande Valley, in particular over the last two decades with regard to socioeconomic status, poverty levels, those kinds of things,” Vela said.

“Oh my God, we are years and years ahead of where we were 20 years ago, in an incredibly positive way. And it’s not happened by accident. It’s happened by this and by this and all of us working together.”

Vela said it was imperative that Valley leaders work together. He recalled the statement he made when he was appointed vice president and COO of Texas A&M McAllen, just over a year ago.

“I made the statement; this is not the time to look at our world from an academic perspective through a competitive lens. My very good friend Nolan Perez is very fond of saying, we have yet to match the number of opportunities that we create with the immense talent that we have in the Rio Grande Valley,” Vela said.

“Until we do that we’re not done. We’re not nearly there. The time right now is not to compete in the traditional sense. The time right now is to collaborate.”

Vela said he was not just talking about the three higher education institutions represented on the stage working together.

“I’m talking about us collaborating with industry, us collaborating with our school districts, us collaborating with other members in other industries within our communities. So that we’re working together,” Vela said.

“Because I promise you, when we work together not only are we smarter; we’ve got a lot more leverage. I look forward to working with each of you guys just like I look forward to continuing to work on with these two guys (Solis and Garza) right here.”

Vela also spoke about the commitment Texas A&M is making in the Valley. He pointed out that the institution has been in the region for over 100 years, thanks to its agriculturalresearchagency.

Vela said A&M’s McAllen Campus is currently offering nine degree programs. He said those came about by listening to the needs of industry. He said A&M would soon be offering a nursing program in McAllen.

“Our goal is not just to hand folks a degree on a piece of paper, but to ensure that that degree leads to something very meaningful from a workforce perspective.”

Vela then spoke proudly about the university’s commitment to building a 30,000 square foot training facility at the Port of Brownsville. He said a groundbreaking ceremony was only recently held for the project.

“If y’all haven’t been to the Port of Brownsville recently, oh my gosh, you’ve got to go. As the governor has been touting, the port has been such a focal point for the Rio Grande Valley as a region. I would urge you all to go, just so you get a sense of what exactly is happening at the Port. And then if you haven’t been to SpaceX, take that little detour around and go see SpaceX as well.”

Vela continued: “We’ve shown a willingness, not only willingness, an absolute need and desire to sit down with industry folks such as yourselves. So we have a very clear understanding of are we missing something? Should we be looking at another program that can help support what you’re trying to do on the business side.”

Vela said he agreed with something Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp has been saying for decades now. “As goes South Texas, is gonna go Texas. And as goes Texas, is gonna go the United States of America.”

Vela said these days that phrase could be added to. “After having listened to the presentation on Mexico (by InterLink’s Torres), to some degree as far as Mexico impacts how South Texas is going to go, we might as well pay close, close attention to what’s going on right across the river. Because, to a large degree, it’s nothing more than water running between two countries, when you talk about the impact that the two economies (Texas and Mexico) can have on each other.”

Editor’s Note: Here is an audio recording of Manny Vela’s remarks at IWS3:

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