It was 50 years ago, on Aug. 2, 1967, when the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council was formed by merging the Lower Rio Grande Valley Council of Governments and the Texas Southmost Economic Development District to officially become the nation’s fourth active council of government (although local officials claim it was really the first economic development district in the country, albeit a pilot program.) It was designed to be a regional planning commission to chart the RGV’s future and today it’s one of 24 councils of government in Texas.
Its birth came six months after a meeting between the mayor of McAllen, a Cameron County commissioner and a representative from the governor’s office at the Fairway Motel in McAllen, across from a citrus grove that is now La Plaza Mall.
Its purpose was to unify and regionalize efforts by local leaders in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties to help the Rio Grande Valley prosper and grow.
At the time, the three counties totaled only 313,000 in population; only the cities of McAllen, Brownsville and Harlingen had over 25,000 residents.
Its four original goals were to improve: tourism, law enforcement, communication and economic development (although then they called it “project review.”)
A lot has certainly changed in the past 50 years. And for much of it we as a region, have the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council to thank for introducing innovative social, public works and other projects that have helped the RGV to grow and prosper and morph from what was once a sleepy agriculture-based region into a diverse, more vibrant economy with over 1.3 million people.
Over the past half century, the LRGVDC has been instrumental in forming a regional 9-1-1 system; police academies; a Valley-wide public bus service; the Area Agency on Aging, which helps seniors with everything from housing to meal deliveries; and improving transportation infrastructure by overseeing the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization
So we’re not surprised so many current and former elected officials attended the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration Wednesday in Weslaco. And so many federal and state officials sent letters of goodwill and encouragement.
A letter from the U.S. Economic Development Administration called it an “auspicious occasion,” that marks an organization that has provided “unwavering service to the Rio Grande Valley … that raised the standard of living and increased the wealth of this region.” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote the LRGVDC has played “a vital role in the economy.” And U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, wrote “you should be proud of the great work you do and will continue to do.”
We agree. We commend past leaders on their vision and we urge current leaders, like the mayors of McAllen, Pharr, Brownsville and Harlingen, to continue to strive for a regional purpose — and to work together to help dissolve whatever small fiefdoms or division might still exist in our region that prevent unlimited growth and options here.
As Kenneth Jones Jr., who served as the organization’s executive director for 25 years, told the 200 people at Wednesday’s celebration: “We served as a model for other states, one which we’re proud of. Happy anniversary and Godspeed for the next 50 years.”