Retail, tourism woes show need to diversify economy

Semana Santa, which began Sunday, will be bad for most businesses that rely on tourism. Retailers, restaurants and other businesses that cater to visitors have said that this week, when thousands of Mexican vacationers visit our beaches, stores and other tourist attractions, compares to the monthslong summer and Christmas seasons with regard to revenue. Restrictions imposed to address the COVID-19 pandemic have drastically reduced patronage at many businesses.

Smaller merchants might not survive the loss of revenue, and many larger operations are laying off workers in order to stay afloat. Just like income trickles through the economy, losses do too; people who lose their jobs don’t have money to spend, reducing income for other merchants. This pushes other businesses toward insolvency, which would put even more people out of work.

This is precisely why local officials are best advised to continue working to diversify our economy as much as possible, and why people are ill-advised to oppose industrial development in the name of better promoting ecological tourism.

Tourism isn’t the only area upon which the Rio Grande Valley relies heavily, and that is vulnerable to unexpected downturns. This area still depends heavily on agriculture, evidenced by the many citrus orchards, vegetable plots and cotton fields that line our highways — not to mention the shrimpers and other maritime businesses. Growers and harvesters have dealt with many issues brought both by a capricious Mother Nature and human error.

Storms and floods have wiped out crops, droughts have shrunk harvests, blights and parasites such as whiteflies and boll weevils and even oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico have reduced the supply of various comestibles.

Officials are right, therefore, to pursue diversification, and industrialization, as part of our economic growth.

Our history has been spotty in this regard, with textile plants coming and going. Auto parts makers have come and gone with the fortunes of the maquiladora industry across the border.

Some ventures look promising as well. Shipbreaking and ship building are growing operations at the Port of Brownsville, and pipelines and other infrastructural elements are being developed to distribute natural gas, both through pipelines to Mexican markets and to the port for shipment overseas. A possible metallurgical operation is also possible in the future.

Environmentalists have sounded alarms over such enterprises, and their concerns are valuable toward reminding the public, and officials, of the need to monitor all businesses that could threaten public health and worker safety.

Diversification, however, should be a constant goal.

It would help reduce the chance that a downturn in one sector — agriculture, retail or trade — will prove devastating to the area.

So yes, voice concerns over any new industry that comes to the Valley, and remind officials that they should not disregard our health and safety in the name of progress and profit. But if those issues can be addressed satisfactorily, economic expansion should prove to be a net asset to the area.