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Menard and Harlingen communities met with students who researched their city

On April 24th, community members, including the Mayor of Harlingen, local business owners, and economic development professionals, met with two student teams that researched their communities and won the George Kozmetsky Memorial Student Challenge. Community members were excited to follow up with the students and discuss their idea of a medical innovation village in Harlingen and a multi-stage downtown development effort in Menard.

“It was a pleasure to learn what [the students] thought about Harlingen and how our community could improve on its efforts to create a more enjoyable quality of place.” Raudel Garza, Chief Executive Officer of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation (EDC) continued, “We’ve actually discussed potential green spaces in the area you identified, it has the necessary drainage and would improve the local aesthetic. Very insightful on your end.” 

Cherry Swindall, Executive Director of the Menard Chamber of Commerce, enthused, I was super excited … the presentation was fantastic and I did not disagree with anything presented. I loved the pictures about what could happen, the buildings, the streets and walkability.”

Collyn Wright Gainer, editor of The Menard news, city council member, and interim director of the Boys and Girls club added,“I loved seeing the team’s plans and the design. What excited me is the potential, we have these visions, but seeing it down on paper was awesome. Planning projects in phases to address affordability is a great idea and could get more people on board.”

The students’ ideas resonated because they were designed to fit the specific community’s assets and challenges. Mayor Christopher Boswell applauded the Harlingen team for recognizing the growing medical and healthcare industry and the importance of partnerships with regional anchor institutions. Mayor Boswell said, “It was remarkable how you all picked up on the medical and healthcare industry component. It’s certainly been a major focus of ours to develop here in Harlingen. I think your ideas were spot on. We have heard developers propose something similar … you all have really good instincts on this.”

Joshua Klein, a graduate student at LBJ School of Public Affairs explained why his team proposed research and incubation facilities. “Everyone is competing for talent for incubators. One of the things that we knew about Harlingen was that there was a high school with medical focused programming, the strong presence of The University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley, and other education opportunities in that field. We tried to make a proposal that would keep the talent that was generated in Harlingen, in Harlingen, and attract others to the region.”

To find out what the community needed, students distributed a survey provided by the institute, conducted interviews, and used other online resources. Both teams received over 100 combined responses to a community survey provided by the IC2 Institute. Jocelyn Yao, an undergraduate student at the McCombs School of Business said, “We were live tracking the numbers. It was like sports. The numbers show that the community wants to be involved in the process. They have the drive and interest.“

Local business owner Kathy Wagoner commented, “We appreciate the many nice things you picked up on about [our community] and some of our weaknesses. You all were spot on for those as well. I think more knowledge of Menard is what we need, bottom line.”

Community members that were in the follow up meeting from Menard included Swindall, Gainer, and two local business owners, Amber Sowell and Kathy Wagoner. Community members from Harlingen included Mayor Boswell, Raudel Garza, Selene Guerrero, Marking Manager at the Harlingen EDC, and Beverly Loftus, Commercial Development Manager of the Harlingen EDC.