Harlingen city leaders work to develop strategic plan

Jul. 27—HARLINGEN — For the next five years, the goals city commissioners are setting will help officials plan projects aimed at mapping the city's course into the future.

During the two-day session, commissioners are weighing the city's strengthens and weaknesses to develop Harlingen's first strategic plan in nearly 10 years.

Since Monday, city leaders have been meeting with Mike Mowery, president of leadership development with Keller-based Strategic Government Resources, to set the city's strategic plan.

"This is a planning session with the city council to get a strategic plan to establish goals," City Manager Dan Serna said Monday at the Harlingen Convention Center. "The council needs to set goals for the staff to aim at over the next five years."

On Monday, commissioners, along with members of the city's Economic Development Corporation and Harlingen Community Improvement Board, identified goals including economic development and projects such as drainage upgrades.

"It's all about planning," Raudel Garza, the EDC's executive director, said during the session running from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

During the sessions, officials are revising the city's last strategic plan developed about seven years ago, Mayor Chris Boswell said.

"This is more of a free-flowing discussion," he said during an interview. "This gives the commission opportunities to talk about the things that are important to them and create goals. There's a lot of agreement in what's important to us."

Developing economic drivers

During Monday's brain-storming session, commissioners agreed to work to strengthen the city's economic drivers such as Valley International Airport, the educational network led by the expanding University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley's School of Medicine and the city's growing medical complex.

Meanwhile, leaders called for business and industry development aimed at creating higher-paying jobs.

"We need to continue to develop our relationship with UTRGV and the school of medicine," Boswell said. "That's a great opportunity we have to build on."

Expanding opportunities

Leaders also cited the international trade potential of the Port of Harlingen and the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios.

Meanwhile, Boswell pointed at developing the city's areotropolis, a 450-acre tract set up to draw international corporations and logistics companies to the U.S.-Mexico border.

To help draw more business to the city, Garza suggested considering lowering the property tax rate while controlling expenses.

City leaders also cited regional opportunities such as the expanding SpaceX project, adding a second South Padre Island causeway would boost the city's airport boardings.

Drawing retail, entertainment

Commissioner Frank Puente called for development of an entertainment center.

"One thing I really want to focus on is retail and entertainment," he said during an interview. "We don't have enough of it. The (convention center) is awesome. We need some place to draw people here for entertainment, shopping and eating."

Meanwhile, Commissioner Rene Perez called for development of the city's retail business base.

"It adds to the quality of life," he said during an interview. "I want them to spend their money in Harlingen."

Regional crossroads

Leaders discussed developing advantages stemming from the city's centrally located position between McAllen and Brownsville.

"The airport is centrally located within the Rio Grande Valley and no one can take that away," Marv Esterly, the airport's aviation director, said. "We need to protect our airport from threats from other airports."

Perez also pointed to challenges stemming from the city's location along the Valley's crossroads, noting Brownville's and McAllen's proximity to the border draws Mexican shoppers.

Infrastructure projects

During the next five years, officials called for projects including drainage upgrades, street repairs along with water and sewer overhauls.

"Those are going to be high-cost projects we have to address," Tim Skoglund, general manager of the WaterWorks System, said, referring to proposed water and sewer upgrades.