Harlingen (TX) Economic Development Corporation – Economic Development Strategic Plan

ChallengeLike the rest of the Valley, Harlingen has been hard hit by layoffs and plant closings over the last few decades, particularly in the textile industry. While global trends, such as off-shoring and outsourcing, contributed to this situation, the lack of a specific strategy for diversification accentuated the issue. Despite its lack of a true border sister-city (such as Brownsville with Matamoros or McAllen with Reynosa, where opportunities for manufacturing have remained strong), Harlingen has tremendous economic development assets. Namely, a strategic location at the mid-point of the Valley, the convergence of two major highways (US 83 and US 77), the region’s top airport, a steady stream of tourists and visitors, the highly touted Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC), the presence of Texas State Technical College (TSTC), and a significant health care cluster led by Valley Baptist Hospital. In other words, Harlingen has had all of the ingredients for economic success, but has failed to leverage them fully.

ApproachTo help gain an objective perspective on their economic situation and to provide counsel for future action, the Harlingen EDC hired TIP Strategies to prepare an economic development strategic plan for the city. To accomplish this task, TIP led a six-month process which incorporated input from city officials, local residents and relevant community institutions, and preparation of an economic assessment, including an analysis of Harlingen’s retail trade area. The result of this process was a candid evaluation of the community’s overall competitiveness and recent economic performance.

OutcomeThe resulting plan, Harlingen First — A Blueprint For Economic Vitality, provided community leaders with an economic vision for the community, identification of the projects and initiatives that best support that vision, and guidelines for implementation. Priority strategies included creating implementation teams to support development of the area’s key clusters (healthcare, logistics, and advanced manufacturing); monitoring development opportunities along the FM 509 corridor connecting Harlingen to the Los Indios Bridge; making downtown a focal point for activity by relocating public services, identifying catalyst projects, and encouraging the growth of higher end retail and professional services; and pursuing the location of a higher education institution in the area. Potential strategies for the latter included transforming the RAHC into a medical school, establishing a new private university, creating a partnership with a Mexican institution, or recruiting a non-profit research center.

TIP Contact Tom Stellman

Photo credit Elmo Pancakes