Villarreal: NAFTA has transformed Deep South Texas

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MCALLEN, Texas – Adrian Villarreal, president and CEO of IBC Bank-McAllen, says the North American Free Trade Agreement – now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement – has transformed Deep South Texas.

Villarreal spoke about his bank’s heavy involvement in NAFTA and USMCA while participating in a bankers panel at the City of McAllen’s recent 2024 MxLAN International Economic Summit. The discussion was titled “The Future of Banking.”

In his remarks, Villarreal pointed out that IBC Bank has been around for about 58 years.

“We were organized, founded, born here, as a Deep South Texas institution. And so having that type of profile, it’s always been very important for us to be champions of economic development here in this area,” Villarreal said.

Villarreal said that when he first started at IBC Bank, in the early 1990s, NAFTA was being born.

“I remember that there was this sort of electricity in the bank. There were trips being made to Washington, DC. There were executives from the bank that were participating in think tanks, in business committees and councils to give feedback on that original NAFTA agreement. And we’re very much engaged in that.”

Villarreal continued: “As we know today, when NAFTA first came around, it really transformed this area. I remember back, growing up and we had double digit unemployment numbers. Today, here in the city of McAllen, I believe it’s about four to four and a half percent. Incredible progress.”

Villarreal said IBC Bank played a key role in fashioning USMCA, just as it did NAFTA.

“Even in this last update, to turn NAFTA into USMCA, we were invited to participate, to be part of the think tanks around that.”

Villarreal said he remembers talking to the head of IBC’s international department (Gerry Schwebel) about the USMCA negotiations.

“At the very beginning of those negotiations, he was saying that the table was kind of pretty much empty. It was him, a bunch of policy makers and politicians involved. And then, as the agreement was coming towards an end, everybody showed up. Big Corporate America, big multinational banks, transportation companies, the automobile industry. Obviously, the table was full.”

Villarreal said he remembers Schwebel telling him a particular story about the USMCA negotiations.

“I remember him telling me a story that, around the table they were kind of looking at him and saying who are you? And it really wasn’t a question about how did you sneak into this table? What it really was about is, how do you know so much? I think the reason why is because we take a deep commitment and being a champion of this area, being involved in this area and promoting economic activities that make a real difference.”

He continued: “Now, when you look at us transforming from an agricultural society to a trade society, now becoming a medical hub, and the growth in institutions down here, it really kind of started with NAFTA opening that floodgate.”

Villarreal added: “And so we take that responsibility very seriously, of being, just as all my peers here want to be, really good corporate citizens. And I think, overall, that engagement and being able to provide economic opportunity for everybody, I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been the most proud about in terms of IBC Bank.”

In addition to Villarreal, the other bankers on the panel were Larry C. Gonzalez, president of Upper RGV Plains Capital Bank, Victor ‘Seby’ Haddad, executive vice president and chief lending officer for Lone Star National Bank, and R. Rene Avila, vice president and chief operations officer for Texas Regional Bank. The panel moderator was Ron Garza, associate vice president for workforce and economic development at UT-Rio Grande Valley. 

Editor’s Note: Here, below, is an audio recording of the bankers panel at MXLAN’s 2024 International Economic Summit. It includes a Q&A with the audience at the end.

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