Lisa A. Bastian (Apr/May 08)
Advanced technology and manufacturing: Texas claims the title as the birthplace of nanotechnology and is nationally ranked for related research, venture capital, and commercialization activities. It's also the birthplace of the integrated circuit, and has major semiconductor employers and research developments affecting the world.
And automotive manufacturing (operating here since 1954 with General Motors) got a big shot in the arm when a major Toyota manufacturing plant opened in San Antonio a few years ago. Today, Texas is the single-largest market for full-size pickup trucks and has robust representation from other automotive manufacturing employers and suppliers.
Not surprisingly, R&D work in all sectors is robust. According to the state, several Texas universities and research institutions are leaders in electronics, medical, biotechnology, aerospace, advanced materials, and energy-related research. In fiscal year 2005, data from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office indicated that Texas residents were issued 5,660 patents, and Texas residents filed 12,951 patent applications - activity ranking the state second in the nation in both categories, behind only California. In 2004, Texas was ranked third in the nation by the National Science Foundation for academic R&D expenditures by state (about $2.8 billion was spent).
The Border Explosion
Located along the South Texas border, the "Rio Grande Valley" is made up of the neighboring communities of Mission, McAllen, Weslaco, Harlingen, and Brownsville. It's an area bustling with dynamic business, trade opportunities, and people. The valley's population has doubled to more than one million residents in the last decade. Retail and housing markets are robust, and the population is again expected to more than double by 2025.
Eight international bridges connect South Texas with the industrial border communities of Reynosa, Matamoros, and Monterrey, Mexico. Together their population totals more than five million residents. When the Anzalduas International Bridge opens in 2009, it will be another logistical artery linking Mexico to the United States through Mission, Texas. And a newly expanded, six-lane expressway now connects all of the Rio Grande Valley communities together.
According to Pat Townsend,
CEO of the Mission Economic Development Authority, "Every valley community is benefiting from this activity, and it won't be long until the world realizes we're a pretty big metro - not just a string of sleepy towns along the border."
While many Texas textile jobs are going to China and South America, the "manufacturing in non-textiles is doing well," adds Townsend. Manufacturing and distribution facilities on the Mexican side continue to help fuel bi-border successes as well, he notes. In addition, educational partnerships - like those shared by the University of Texas-Brownsville (UTB) and University of Texas-Pan American with Mexican technology schools and U.S. engineering schools - are helping communities meet the specific work force needs of area businesses competing globally.
Homeland Security's proposed 600-mile "border wall" concerns some local leaders, as some of the 150 miles of fencing slated for Texas would be in their area. As UTB's president says, "We believe in protecting our borders.We believe in strong immigration policy. But we also understand that a fence, no matter how high or how wide, is no substitute for either." Instead, many people here think a "virtual fence" comprised of cameras, surveillance, and boots on the ground is a better solution to ensuring the safety of citizens and fighting illegal immigration.
How will the fence impact trade? Townsend says that with so much commerce between the two nations, all the community bridges crossing the river into Mexico should keep commercial traffic moving - "with or without a wall."
Transportation & the Trans-Texas Corridor
With new investments and jobs come more transportation challenges to move commodities - and people - in and out of Texas. The state estimates that during the next 25 years its population will increase 64 percent and road use will grow 214 percent, but state road capacity will only grow 6 percent without new roads or funding for them.
The solution? The Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC), says the state. This proposed multi-use, statewide network of transportation routes would be built in phases over the next 50 years, with routes prioritized according to Texas' transportation needs. As currently envisioned, routes could include separate lanes for passenger vehicles and large trucks; freight railways; high-speed commuter railways; infrastructure for utilities including water lines, oil and gas pipelines, and transmission lines for electricity, broadband, and other telecommunications services.