Making our region better

Published Brownsville Herald February 14, 2011

The economy and the government response to it leave a lot to be desired. You know the economy is getting bad when it gets to you. It has gotten to me, so it is bad.
I am a federal employee and retired around 20-plus years ago, so my pension is not lucrative. Additionally, I have medical problems that require attention three times a week.
My first paycheck of 2011 it was 1 percent lower in net dollars, due to tax and health cost changes. I thought those of us on the lower-middle rung would not be squeezed any further. I have been considering moving to the Philippines to get the most out of my health dollar. That choice is becoming more real every day.
This penny pinching has even found its way into one of my favorite restaurants. Since I rarely go out, I order takeout. Recently I ordered a favorite dish from a local Chinese restaurant, a delightful mixture of seafood and vegetables with a delicious dipping sauce. When I received the order it included one bowl of hot steamed vegetables, some seafood, some rice and soy sauce — with no dipping sauce or other spice.
I called the restaurant, which made no real effort to supply even the dipping sauce! This is indeed sad; I have visited the restaurant regularly and knew the proprietors.
I have noticed restaurants and businesses in general scrimping on quality and attention to service when times become difficult, which sometimes precipitates more losses. The really good adjust so they can continue providing the best quality and service at a reasonable cost.
I hope my experience with this restaurant was an anomaly in an otherwise good reputation built on many years of service.
A business prospers only by providing a product differentiated from its competitors in some way, with an attractive appearance and competitive price. Most businesses decline because their products or prices are not attractive.
As economic events evolve, products must change or new uses found for them. The alternative is loss of market. A maker of wagon wheels evolved into a maker of lawn ornaments, using the same tools and skills.
We here in Brownsville began facing evolution of times and products brought about by weather.
When I moved here in the early 1980s the primary market was from Mexico and most salespeople spoke Spanish, even to the exclusion of English. Fortunately, I learned the rudimentary language skills while working with U.S. Customs (even they have had to evolve their skills and methods over time).
We have seen ups and downs in products and prices, such as during the 1980s financial difficulties and peso devaluation. Further, droughts and other substantial weather changes have forced new approaches to farming.
A market for tourism from the north and from Central American “temporary workers” developed so that the previous downtown shopping district went into decline, and shopping developed on the northern edge of our city.
Winter visitors became welcome contributors to our well being.
We have gained in this evolution, but certainly nowhere near as well as we should due to a reluctance to look past familiar ways, leaving things that could be developed regionally, in coordinated way. Unfortunately, personal greed, political debts and risk-averse entrepreneurs have stunted local growth, making us more vulnerable to criminal influences.
There have been some ideas such as a rehabilitation of downtown during our storied and colorful past. I recently bought a Western movie named “She came to the Rio Grande Valley.” It featured Freddy Fender and related a story that took place around Mission, Texas. I found it very interesting and wished there were more like it featuring real stories about our unique and colorful history in the area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande.
I have frequently railed on an on about a resurgence of a produce market linking the Rio Grande Valley, Central America and Mexico. I worked for a time with former McAllen Mayor Othal Brand doing just that. It seemed that further development and planning would make a consistent menu of products available for sale regardless of weather events.
All that is needed are openminded entrepreneurs and creative financial sources, things that seem to be in short supply.
Many opportunities could be developed that would ease financial bumps and grinds. I wonder why there is no passenger rail service connecting Laredo, the Valley, Corpus Christi, Houston and San Antonio. Think of the convenience and flexibility in seeking markets in these rapidly growing centers!