A longstanding partnership with South Texas College (STC) is creating a bright future for communities in Starr County, according to leaders of industry.

Stakeholders dedicated a portion of a region-wide economic development summit to reflect on STC’s impact over the last 25 years as they begin to come together to create a roadmap for economic and community development in Starr County.

The Starr County Industrial Foundation (SCIF) in partnership with STC hosted “Shaping the Future” July 12. Organized as a daylong summit by SCIF, the event included a variety of speakers in panels that addressed key issues in Starr County including infrastructure, healthcare, workforce, education, economic development, and industry.

Rose Benavidez, STC Trustee and President of SCIF offered opening remarks followed by Starr County Pct. 3 commissioner Eloy Garza and Rio Grande City Mayor Joel Villarreal.

Texas Sens. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen along with Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, each presented an overview in the aftermath of the 86th Legislative Session at a special luncheon.

“We are excited about this event that has been created to better our community and the lives of our citizens,” said Commissioner Garza. “The best thing that has ever happened for Starr County has been the college. (Rose) Benavidez has followed in the footsteps of her father, the late Manuel Benavidez, and has really gone beyond that to bring this college to where it is today.”

Panel speakers at the summit included Robert Peche, South Texas Representative with U.S. Economic Development Administration; Roel Gomez, area director with the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Eduardo Gracia, engineer with TXDOT who spoke on infrastructure planning.

Dr. Carlos Cardenas, CEO and Chairman of Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance; Dr. Jose Vazques, Chairman of Starr County Memorial Hospital Board, and former Texas Family Physician of the Year Dr. Tony Falcon hosted a breakout session on the economics of healthcare.

STC President Dr. Shirley A. Reed, along with Texas Workforce Commissioner representing Labor Julian Alvarez, and University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley Vice President for Government and Community Relations Veronica Gonzales were panel speakers for capacity building through workforce and education.

“The vision for the future of Starr County is really in our hands,” Dr. Reed said. “It was 25 years ago that there was a vision to create a community college, but it was beyond the comprehension of people in Starr and Hidalgo County.

“If it was not for the overwhelming support of Starr County, South Texas College would have never been established,” Dr. Reed said. “Whatever the vision is for the future of Starr County, we know it will be realized by working together, through hard work, and staying the course.”

In late 2018, STC and the SCIF received a $100,000 federal planning grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA), a bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce to assist in updating the County’s strategic plan. The summit was a culmination of community forums conducted by the SCIF that collected vital data related to the area’s strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

Utilizing SCIF data, stakeholders in Starr plan to launch digital asset mapping to improve recruitment and expansion opportunities in the region.

“This morning for us is a continuation of work through the process of creating a plan that is accountable, transparent, and most importantly relatable to Starr County,” Benavidez told attendees at the summit. “From our perspective, this is not the end of this process but the beginning of furthering the work and dedication that everyone has put in to getting this strategic plan update, and creating real goals that together we can achieve.”