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News Release from Comptroller Susan Combs

For Immediate Release
June 25, 2009

Comptroller Presents Economic Outlook for Upper Rio Grande Region

(AUSTIN) — The economic outlook is promising for the Upper Rio Grande region, according to a new report by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs.

"Texas is not immune from the nation's current economic challenges," Combs said. "Looking ahead, the Upper Rio Grande region will continue to add jobs and increasing educational opportunities will help prepare the region’s work force for tomorrow’s workplace. The military, tourism and the apparel industry will continue to be important anchors for its economy."

While El Paso’s job growth from 2003-13 will keep pace with the statewide rate of 23 percent, the region’s non-metro counties – Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster – are expected to surpass statewide job growth. Tourism and agriculture are the economic foundation of communities outside of El Paso County.

Tourists spent nearly $1.5 billion in the region in 2007. Travel and tourism supplies 20 percent of the total employment in Brewster County and more than 10 percent of total employment in Culberson County. The upper Rio Grande region contains more than a million acres of public parkland, including the Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. In 2008, the region’s four national parks attracted nearly 800,000 visitors, and nearly 240,000 people visited the eight state parks. Visitors flock to the region for its desert and mountain scenery; camping, hiking and other outdoor adventures; and attractions such as the famed Marfa Lights, the McDonald Observatory and numerous historic landmarks.

Though the Upper Rio Grande region is mostly desert, agriculture contributes more than $500 million per year to the economy. The region's wide-open spaces are ideal for ranching. Crops account for 83 percent of agriculture production and livestock makes up 15 percent. Pecans, vegetables and cotton are important crops.

 The counties in the Upper Rio Grande Region are El Paso, Hudspeth, Culberson, Jeff Davis, Presidio and Brewster.

Combs released Texas in Focus: Upper Rio Grande, a new report providing a detailed economic outlook for the six-county region in the westernmost portion of the state that includes the cities of El Paso, Alpine, Presidio, Van Horn, Marfa and Fort Davis. The report examines the region's economic development, demographics, infrastructure, health care and education — key issues that present both opportunities and challenges for the Texas economy.

Texas in Focus: Upper Rio Grande is the sixth report in Combs' Texas in Focus series designed to equip local decision makers and business leaders with vital information to help plan for economic growth. The full report can be found on the Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/tif/urgrande/

From the report

The military is the region's largest employer, and its economic impact is growing as Fort Bliss undergoes a major expansion and gains more than 20,000 troops. The expansion will also add a projected 24,000 civilian jobs in the El Paso area by 2013.

Apparel and footwear manufacturing are traditional mainstays of the region's economy, taking advantage of abundant materials imported from Mexico to produce goods sold throughout the world. Apparel manufacturing has been hurt by global competition, but many resilient companies have survived by shifting their operations from manufacturing to distribution. Others are now manufacturing goods for the military.

In the future, the region's economy will rely less on goods-producing industries and more on services. The strongest growth will occur in business and professional services, with 73 percent more jobs in 2013 than in 2003.

Health care is a major employer and set to grow with the opening of Texas' first new medical school since 1997 and construction of El Paso's first children’s hospital at Thomason General Hospital. The new facilities will help ease a serious health care shortage in the Upper Rio Grande region and encourage economic growth.

Being an international gateway between the U.S. and Mexico brings both economic benefits and challenges for the Upper Rio Grande region, which includes seven border crossings and a Foreign Trade Zone operated by El Paso International Airport. El Paso and the Texas Department of Transportation are working on several highway construction projects to relieve traffic congestion caused by trucks moving an enormous volume of goods across the border at El Paso each day. A proposed new traffic corridor, La Entrada al Pacifico, would cross the border at Presidio, potentially bringing more than 500 additional trucks per day into the southern part of the Upper Rio Grande region and relieving some of the pressure on El Paso. A new point of entry, the Guadalupe Tornillo International Bridge, being built in Tornillo, is expected to be completed by 2015.

Due to its desert location, the Upper Rio Grande region's water conservation efforts are far ahead of the rest of the state. The region plans to increase municipal conservation; recover, clean and reuse municipal water for municipal purposes; and increase imports of desalinated water. A new desalination plant completed in 2007 will help meet the water needs of a growing population.

The region's population is relatively young and 81 percent Hispanic. Almost all of the population is concentrated in El Paso. Educational attainment in the region, though lower than the Texas and U.S. averages, is improving. Although three-quarters of the region’s students are economically disadvantaged, 88 percent of its schools are rated Academically Acceptable or better. The graduation rate at the region’s major university, the University of Texas-El Paso, doubled between 1999 and 2007. Sul Ross State University in Alpine, El Paso Community College, and two health-related education centers associated with Texas Tech University and the University of Texas Health Science Center-Houston also help supply skilled workers for the region.

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