Rafael Tapia believes in the steady-but-sure approach to economic development, or as much as is possible in a field where competition is the norm and falling short on prospects happens more often than landing successes.
Tapia is the executive director of the Alamo Economic Development Corporation. Both of the cities to his immediate west – Pharr and San Juan – have seen surges of growth along their expressway corridor as spaces in McAllen have filled up and developers look for open space. Alamo is the next city over from San Juan and Tapia wants his city to be ready when development arrives.
“Development is radiating out from McAllen and Pharr,” he said. “We’re trying to take advantage of it and be prepared for it. We’ve been focused on infrastructure because we know good infrastructure brings in developers.”
So does stability. Tapia has been at the Alamo EDC since 2016 and came in after a number of predecessors in the job he currently holds had come and gone fairly quickly. He has tried to work with city leaders to lower and restructure its debt services while building a consistent message.
“You need to have a vision for a community and be able to carry it out,” Tapia said. “If you have people changing out all the time, goals and objectives don’t get carried out.”
A Local Focus Paying Off
Tapia has worked to do the basics well with a focus on helping small business owners in the community. The EDC has a revolving loan fund program that assists small businesses in Alamo with repairs and renovations, expansion fees, and purchasing property or equipment. The hyper-local focus explains, in part, why Alamo has consistently seen double digit growth in sales tax figures. Most recent figures show a 15 percent year-over-year increase.
“That tells you the purchasing power we have in Alamo,” Tapia said. “Our residents are active and well employed, working in Harlingen, McAllen and Weslaco. I also think COVID changed shopping patterns in that we had more of our local people staying here rather than going to Weslaco and Pharr and other places to shop.”
He described Alamo as “a small community having growing pains,” and one eager to highlight its strengths to developers.
“The tough part for a small community is showing that there is a market there,” Tapia said. “Cesar Chavez (Road in San Juan) is only two miles away, but sometimes it seems to be worlds apart.”
He believes Alamo’s stability and commitments will ultimately deliver bigger gains.
“We seem to be a community that keeps on trucking,” Tapia said.