Harlingen gives mayor voting power, expands EDC board of directors

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Harlingen City Hall is seen in this undated photo. (Valley Morning Star Photo)

HARLINGEN — For decades, Harlingen’s five city commissioners have each picked a representative to serve on the Economic Development Corporation’s five-member board of directors, leaving the mayor without voting power.

Now, commissioners are revising the EDC’s bylaws, giving the mayor power to appoint two members to the board, expanding the panel to seven directors.

Meanwhile, commissioners have been working with the EDC’s current board of directors along with Orlando Campos, the agency’s new manager and chief executive officer, to review a 10-year strategic plan aimed at drawing new business and creating jobs.

“We want to make sure Harlingen remains competitive with other communities,” Mayor Norma Sepulveda said in an interview. “We want to make sure we’re keeping up with emerging trends.”

New voting power

During a July 26 meeting, commissioners met with the EDC’s board of directors to revise the agency’s bylaws, giving the mayor power to make two appointments to the agency’s board of directors, on which members serve staggered, three-year terms.

“Typically, when you look at the composition of most boards, there’s an appointment for the entire commission,” Sepulveda said. “It’s important for the entire commission to have an appointment to represent the entire commission.”

Sepulveda said she’s planning to make her appointments during upcoming city meetings.

“I want someone who can work with the commission and the EDC board,” she said. “I want someone who brings experience to the table.”

The revision of the EDC’s bylaws expands the agency’s board of directors from five to seven members.

The EDC’s bylaw revisions don’t require voter approval.

The revision comes more than a year after voters changed the way the commission appointed members to the prominent board overseeing Valley International Airport.

Last year, members of the city’s past commission called on voters to decide if they wanted to give commissioners the power to make appointments to the airport board.

As part of a proposition, residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of an amendment allowing each commissioner to make an appointment to the board while the mayor appoints two members, creating a seven-member board.

Since 2006, the charter gave the mayor sole power to appoint members to the airport board, which had been made up of nine members.

Revising qualifications

During the meeting, commissioners and EDC directors also revised bylaws setting criteria used to select nominees to serve on the agency’s board.

The new criteria revises qualifications to include prospects with backgrounds as businesses’ chief executive officers along with those with experience including business development and finance.

Officials are revising criteria now focused on the selection of nominees with experience as chief executive officers of the Chamber of Commerce, Harlingen Industrial Foundation and the Industrial Development Authority of Harlingen.

“Each director shall meet one of the following qualifications: Serve or have served as chief executive officer of a company; serve or have served in a position of executive management of a company; or have served as as director for at least one year on the board of directors of the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce, Inc., the board of directors of the Harlingen Industrial Foundation, Inc., or on the board of directors of the Industrial Development Authority of Harlingen,” the EDC’s past criteria states.

Now, the EDC’s board of directors is made up of Javier De Leon, president; Rudy Martinez, vice president; Tre Peacock, secretary; Saarang Jay Rama, treasurer; and Eric Ziehe, the agency’s past president.

Reviewing EDC plans

On July 26 and 27, officials including EDC directors and commissioners met for a two-day retreat aimed at reviewing the agency’s 10-year strategic plan.

“We are having our stakeholders provide input along with our board and city commission to see if it’s still relevant or if changes need to be made,” Campos said in an interview.

Meanwhile, officials are also setting goals aimed at drawing new business and creating jobs.

“We’re seeking input to determine what the community’s priorities are,” Campos said.

10-year strategic plan

Late last year, officials drafted the EDC’s 10-year strategic plan aimed at creating more medical and industrial jobs while helping draw new businesses to town.

The master plan focuses on building up the city’s medical complex, retail and industrial base while training its workforce and helping to bolster economic drivers such as Valley International Airport and the Port of Harlingen.

The EDC’s master plan outlines six goals, including development of a trained workforce.

While focusing on “high-demand” jobs, the plan’s first goal calls on the EDC and the Harlingen Community Improvement Board to earmark at least $100,000 a year to help build up the workforce.

Meanwhile, it proposes working with the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Texas State Technical College and the airport to build a site aimed at aeronautics training while working with TSTC to expand its programs.

Expanding industrial base

As part of a second goal, the EDC plans to work to draw more businesses while expanding its industrial base along with trade with Mexico.

The plans calls for the development of a public improvement district at the city’s industrial park, upgrading the Port of Harlingen’s rail system and planning a “manufacturing incubator” while considering boosting incentive programs.

Upgrading transportation routes

The plan’s third goal focuses on working to develop the area’s transportation system, including upgrading FM 509 from the Free Trade Bridge at Los Indios, tying into Interstate 69 East.

Officials also aim to boost capacity at the airport and the Port of Harlingen while working to develop a “more efficient rail service in Harlingen” and promoting the Free Trade Bridge.

Boosting business district

To meet its fourth goal, the EDC plans to work to boost the city’s retail base, focusing on expansion of the Cameron Crossing business district.

As part of the plan, the agency is proposing offering small business training while considering incentive programs and development of a revolving loan program.

Meanwhile, the plan is calling on the EDC to work to help businesses near Bass Pro Shops while preparing that area for more development.

Developing medical complex

The plan’s fifth goal calls for expansion of the city’s medical complex, including the medical school.

As part of the plan, the EDC is proposing the development of 30 acres along Hale and Victoria streets.

Campos takes office

Following a seven-month national search, Campos took over as the EDC’s manager and chief executive officer earlier this month, replacing Raudel Garza, who resigned last October after 1o years to take a job with Edinburg’s EDC.

Board members set Campos’ salary at $185,000.

A 27-year career in economic development led Campos to the job.

In 1996, he launched his career in economic development with the Brownsville Economic Development Council, serving as director of marketing and business development.

Two years later, he took a job with Valley International Airport, working as manager of business development.

In 2002, Campos returned to the Brownsville Economic Development Council, serving five years as its vice president of business development.

From 2007 to 2011, he worked as the Arlington Chamber of Commerce’s senior director of business and community development.

In 2011, Campos took a job as Addison’s first economic development director, leading the department to win recognition as one North Texas’ top economic development offices.

During his tenure, he went on to take the duel role of tourism director.

A graduate of Brownsville’s Gladys Porter High School, Campos went on to graduate from Columbia University, earning a bachelor of arts degree while majoring in urban studies, specializing in history.