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Dr. Leonel Vela of Pharr, 15 years with Harlingen and Edinburg Regional Academic Health Centers, takes on new role with UT-RGV School of Medicine

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Dean Leonel Vela, M.D., featured left, takes University of Texas System Chancellor William McRaven, who began his role as administrative leader of the UT System at the beginning of the year, on a tour of the UT-Rio Grande Valley simulation hospital at the Harlingen Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen in January 2015.

Photograph By PAUL CHOUY

For the past 15 years, medical education in the Rio Grande Valley has been under the watchful eye of Dr. Leonel Vela, M.D., Founding Regional Dean of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC-SA) Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen. Vela began his work at the Harlingen RAHC on March 1, 2000. He observes his 15-year anniversary with the institution this month while already deeply committed to his new role in the next chapter of medical education in the Valley at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine. Vela has been named the Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs at the new medical school. “I am thrilled and excited about what lies before us all,” Vela said. “We are so fortunate to have Dr. Francisco Fernandez at the helm as Founding Dean of the UT-RGV School of Medicine. He has established a team that has coalesced around his vision of Valley medical education that is focused not only on producing excellent physicians but also physicians being an integral part of transforming healthcare for the area’s residents. Dr. Fernández is always mindful that the community’s best interests be paramount in our efforts.” A native of Pharr, Vela said he draws strength from his humble farmworker family background. “We see so many challenges in our region,” he said. “When I started at the RAHC 15 years ago, I always had my eye on the eventual transformation of this program into a full medical school. Now my dream, and that of many others, is being realized. UT-RGV and its School of Medicine will be a beacon of hope for a better future for all residents of the Rio Grande Valley.”

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Edinburg Mayor García, who also leads EEDC, four other “Pillars of Success”, to be honored by University of Texas-Pan American on Friday, February 27, for achievements as alumni

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Featured, from left: Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodríguez; Congressman Joaquín Castro, D-San Antonio; and Mayor Richard H. García, during the Thursday, January 1, 2015 swearing-in for Rodríguez, held at the Pharr Events Center.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Honoring his family’s legacy is important to Richard H. García, who can trace his roots in South Texas back to the late 1700s. “When they were colonizing all of the cities here on the river, 38 families were brought to Mier, which was the original colony here,” he said, “My family was part of that group.” Today, as a successful attorney and mayor of the City of Edinburg, the UTPA alumnus and 2015 Pillar of Success continues to build on what his ancestors helped establish in the Rio Grande Valley. The Pillars of Success are the university’s official annual “Alumni” awards, which honor UTPA’s most distinguished alumni. The Pillars of Success celebrate a select group of Broncs for their inspirational stories and outstanding achievements. The event, which raises funds for scholarships, will be held on Friday, February 27, at Boggus Ford Events Center (formerly the Pharr Events Center) at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $100 each and can be purchased online or at the UTPA Alumni Center in Edinburg (2402 S. Closner Blvd.). García talks with pride about a new pedestrian corridor that will connect Edinburg’s City Hall to the UTPA campus and include a Valley Metro station and a new residential complex for students that will feature apartments above retail space, a project that had the enthusiastic blessing of UT-Pan American’s administration. “I was a little nervous with the transition (to The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley), but Guy Bailey (president of the new university) tells me he buys into the whole plan,” García said. Also on the horizon for the City of Edinburg is a new $60 million, 8,500-seat events arena that will be home to the NBA Development League Champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers, beginning in 2017, and will host other sporting events as well as provide a prime location for concerts, graduations and meetings. The 115,799-square-foot arena will be built on 40-acres of land located on the east side of I-69C (US 281) on Alberta Road. The entire property includes nine additional pad sites for the development of a future hotels and restaurants. When the project was announced in November 2013, García said not only will it enhance the economy by millions of dollars, but it will also improve the quality of life for Edinburg residents and visitors. “People want to visit and live in cities where they can get educated, where they can work and where they can play. We’ve created more than 3,500 jobs in the last three years; we have UTPA, which is about to become an even larger UT System campus complete with a medical school; and now we will also have a place for entertainment,” he noted. The mayor also boasts of another project, La Sienna, a 726-acre master planned community along I-69C (US 281) at Monte Cristo Road that is “going gangbusters.” In addition to several moderate to exclusive residential areas, renowned Dallas developer Henry Miller will develop 45 acres along the freeway into what García describes as “a cross between The Quarry and La Cantera (two high-end shopping areas in San Antonio)” that will include water features, restaurants, shops, a hotel and an IMAX theatre. The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, also has 100 additional acres that it will soon put on the market. “With those two things – the arena and La Sienna – along with the medical school, the sky’s the limit for the city,” said García, the president of the EEDC Board of Directors. He said he is excited about the transition of his alma mater, UTPA, into The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley next year. “When San Antonio got its medical school 25 years ago, the demographics and population were similar to Hidalgo County’s today. Now, San Antonio is the second largest city in Texas and number seven in the nation. That’s because of the medical investment. That’s what I see happening to us down here, and the impacts will be the medical school and UT-RGV. The fact that it’s going to be the second largest in the UT System speaks volumes, and Dr. Bailey said we may end up being even larger than UT Austin in numbers. Wow, what can you say about that?”

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With key appointments to powerful House committees, Rep. Muñoz well-positioned to help promote, protect City of McAllen’s legislative agenda

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Featured, from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and McAllen Mayor Jim Darling on Thursday, June 17, 2014 at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

With southwest McAllen as part of his House District 36, which includes a major presence of South Texas College along with key international bridges and transportation systems, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, will be a powerful asset once more for The City of McAllen and its ambitious, progressive agenda during the ongoing 140-day regular session of the Texas Legislature, which runs through May 31. Muñoz’ body of work at the Texas Capitol, in partnership with his fellow Valley lawmakers, is sure to continue registering victories, especially following his reappointment to several of the most influential House of Representatives legislative committees. Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, one of the three most powerful leaders in Texas government, on Wednesday, February 4, elevated Muñoz to Vice-Chair of the House Committee on Insurance, and also kept him as a member of the budget-setting Appropriations Committee, and the Local and Consent Calendars Committee. “I am sincerely honored and grateful to be reappointed to these very important committees by Speaker Straus,” Muñoz said after receiving his assignments. “I fully intend to represent the interests of my constituents and the greater Rio Grande Valley region as I serve on these committees. I thank Speaker Straus for entrusting me with these assignments and for placing me in a position to better serve Texas.” Muñoz’ rising star in the Texas Legislature is a definite asset to the City of McAllen’s legislative agenda, which was adopted by the McAllen Mayor and McAllen City Commission late last year. McAllen’s top state priorities will focus on the following goals: the creation of a Hidalgo County Hospital District; improving international trade and shipping with Mexico through local international bridges; seeking funding to build the first phase of a northbound commercial vehicle inspection station at Anzaldúas International Bridge; extending Ware Road (FM 2220), a primary north-south arterial in McAllen, north from Trenton Road (FM 676) to State Highway 107; building an overpass over Pecan Boulevard at the South Texas College main campus, which is one of the fastest growing in the country (32,000 students), to coincide with a $55 million locally-funded campus expansion currently underway; enhancing Texas’ relationship with Mexico, including holding high-level annual meetings in McAllen or Rio Grande City featuring the Texas governor’s office and Texas secretary of state’s office with their counterparts from Mexican states that border Texas for the purposes of discussing trade, transportation, energy, security and other bi-national issues; and seeking funding, through legislation or Texas Parks and Wildlife Department prioritization, for the construction of hike-and-bike trails in McAllen and surrounding cities.

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Archer Fellows encourage students to consider a ‘life-changing’ semester in Washington, D.C.

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Featured, from left, Blanca Davila and Stephanie Méndez encourage students to apply for an Archer Fellowship. The application deadline for both the fall 2015 semester and the spring 2016 semester is Monday, February 23. For more information, contact Stephen Cisneros, Interim Director of Student Engagement, at 956-882-7152 or stephen.cisneros@utb.edu.

Photograph By LETTY FERNÁNDEZ

Stephanie Méndez and Blanca Davila are enthusiastic promoters of the Bill Archer Fellowship Program, an education program designed to provide students from throughout The University of Texas System with an intense learning and exploration experience in Washington, D.C. Students attending The University of Texas at Brownsville – who will be enrolled at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the fall – can apply to the Archer Fellows Program for the 2015–2016 academic year. Méndez, who will graduate from UT-Brownsville with her Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and Management in May, was an Archer Fellow during the fall 2014 semester. Davila, who will receive her Master of Public Policy and Management from UT Brownsville in May, participated in the Archer Graduate Program in Public Policy in summer 2014.

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Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument, created by legislation filed by Sen. Hinojosa, is dedicated to honor fallen heroes from that war

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and other state leaders on Saturday, March 29, led a tribute to Texas veterans who served or were killed during the Vietnam War with the unveiling and dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Monument on the Texas State Capitol Grounds. The ceremony was held on Texas Vietnam Veterans Day, which marks the anniversary of the day the last American combat troops left Vietnam. “As a Vietnam veteran for the U.S. Marine Corps, I understand the difficult sacrifices that our military families endure on a daily basis,” Hinojosa said. “The Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Monument honors and thanks our fallen Vietnam heroes and their families for their ultimate sacrifice of defending our freedom, and welcomes those who came home and fought with great courage and resilience.It is our hope that this monument will ensure that the memory of our Texas Vietnam Heroes lives on. Semper Fi.” The monument is a 14-foot-tall bronze sculpture featuring five seven-foot tall infantry figures in patrol positions situated atop an eight-sided base. Designed to represent the diversity of Texas Vietnam Veterans, the figures will be Hispanic-American, African-American, Asian, Native-American, and Caucasian. The Texas Vietnam Heroes Exhibit is a visual representation of the 3,417 Texans who did not survive to come home from Vietnam. It was designed by Excalibur Exhibits and consists of hand-embossed dog tags featuring the name, rank, branch of service, and date of loss and home of record for each veteran. See lead story in this posting.

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Dr. Guy Bailey, the newly-selected president of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, will find that South Texans are determined to see higher education in the Valley reach a world-class level, say Edinburg city and state leaders. Bailey, 63, has served as chancellor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the president of Texas Tech University and the University of Alabama, and provost of The University of Texas at San Antonio. On Monday, April 28, the UT System Board of Regents, which met in Austin, selected Bailey as the sole finalist for the historic position of founding president for UT-Rio Grande Valley. “I am very impressed with his credentials and accomplishments, but it is the people of the Valley who will impress him,” said Canales, whose House District 40 includes UT-Pan American, the UT-Regional Academic Health Center Medical Research Division, and a planned major component of the new UT medical school for the Valley. Featured, from left, during a reception on Friday, May 16, at The University of Texas-Pan American, are: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; former Rep. VerónicaGonzáles, D-McAllen, who now serves as Vice President for University Advancement, The University of Texas-Pan American; Edinburg Mayor Richard García; Dr. Guy Bailey, President, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Ernest “Ernie” Aliseda, Member, Board of Regents, The University of Texas System; and Rio Grande City Mayor Rubén A. Villarreal. See story later in this posting.

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The majority of the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation celebrates in the House of Representatives chamber soon after the final House passage in 2013 of Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, which will bring a full-fledged University of Texas medical school to the Rio Grande Valley. The planned UT medical school, which is set to open in the fall of 2016 with an enrollment of 50 students, will have an economic impact to the four-county region of more than $1 billion a year when it grows into a UT health science center. This image, taken on May 23, 2013, features, front row from left: Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission (seated); Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito; and Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco. Standing, back row, from left: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas; and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City.  See story later in this posting.

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Details of a proposal to donate up to five acres of prime real estate in southwest Edinburg – valued at more than $2 million – to serve as the site of the planned administrative headquarters for the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley have been made public by MVP Partnership, L.T.D. of McAllen.The offer, submitted by prominent attorney José E. García on behalf of MVP Partnership, L.T.D., would benefit the UT System, UT-Rio Grande Valley, and the McAllen-Edinburg-Pharr-Mission Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) by placing the key headquarters, with its prestigious economic, academic, and political resources, in the heart of one of the Valley’s most influential, safest, and attractive regions.The site being offered by MVP Partnership, L.T.D. is located by the intersection of Trenton Road and McColl Road in Edinburg, immediately north of the campuses of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and adjoining medical offices and businesses. It is within easy access to all major hospitals in Edinburg, including Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital, the University of Texas-Pan American, the planned UT-RGV medical school, and minutes away from some of the most distinguished neighborhoods and bustling business, medical, and entertainment corridors in Edinburg and McAllen. Featured on Friday, May 16, at The University of Texas-Pan American, from left: Dr. Miguel Nevárez, former president of the University of Texas-Pan American; Dr. Guy Bailey, President, The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley; and Jose E. García. See story later in this posting.

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Leaders for Texas National Bank in Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (RGVHCC) on Thursday, May 22, hosted a summer mixer to educate area residents of the loan packages and other financial services available through Texas National Bank for current and prospective business owners. The event took place at the bank, located at 4809 South Jackson Road. “Are you looking for loan? Learn of all the different loan possibilities that Texas National Bank offers,” noted Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, President and CEO of the RGVHCC. “Also learn of the award-winning membership benefits that the RGV Hispanic Chamber offers. Anyone can become a member of the chamber.” Individuals do not have to be Hispanic to be a member, she added. The RGVHCC has many services for its membership, including lobbying state and federal leaders on public education, international affairs, and women and health-related issues. Featured during final preparations for the May 22 event are, seated from left: Gina Ayala; Odilia Chaidez; Mayra Woloski; Linda Vera; and Ester Medrano. Standing, from left: Rubén Plata, Executive Vice President, Texas National Bank; Mario Lozano; Omar Rodríguez; Frank Davila; Pete Morales; James Flores; Millie Smith; Laura Galván; Leo Treviño; Connie González; Mary Elizondo; Ernesto López; Navil González; Joe Quiroga, President, Texas National Bank; and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, President and CEO, Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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The Texas Land Title Association (TLTA) has announce that five employees with Edwards Abstract and Title Company, with its headquarters in Edinburg have successfully completed the requirements and passed a rigorous examination to earn the professional certification designations from TLTA. To become TLTA certified, a candidate must meet certain eligibility requirements in work experience, education and professional involvement, and then successfully pass an examination. Each designation represents a measure of achievement and proficiency in the Texas title insurance industry and distinguishes these highly motivated individuals. Edwards Abstract and Title Company associates who have earned professional certification designations from the Texas Land Title Association are, featured from left: Martha (Marty) García, CESA (Sr. Escrow Officer – Mission); Marilyn De Luna, CAEA, CESA, CTIA (Regional Escrow Automation Manager/Sr. Escrow Officer – McAllen); Byron Jay Lewis, CTIA (Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer – Edinburg); Mariana Ragousis-Ramírez, CESA, CTIA (Escrow Officer – McAllen); and Mary A. Barrientos, CESA (Mission Branch Manager/Sr. Escrow Officer). See story later in this posting.

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The Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber Women’s Committee is preparing for the RGV Women of Distinction Awards Dinner to be held on Saturday, June 19, at The Social Club in Edinburg. The evening will celebrate women who have excelled in their fields. It will consist of a dinner, shopping, entertainment and the 2014 awards. Individual tickets may be purchased for $10 while a Table for 10 is available for $500. The committee is asking for nominations from the public in the following categories: Professional, Humanitarian, Education, Government, Entrepreneur, Arts and Entertainment; and Rising Star. Qualified nominees are those women who have helped the community and excelled in their field, and who have encouraged other women to succeed. The RGVHCC Women’s Committee will also be scheduling workshops, in the forms of luncheons or evening gathering, relating to women’s issues. “We welcome women to become involved in the Women’s Committee and get to know other successful women who are willing to help women.  The Women’s Committee also has an event at the end of the year called ‘Ladies Night Out’, which includes pampering, shopping, silent auction and a male style show,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC President and Chief Executive Officer. Women’s Committee leaders, featured from left, are:,Sharon Almaguer, attorney; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, RGVHCC President/CEO;  Brenda Lee Huerta, Chair-Elect, RGVHCC; Hannah Burleson; Connie Huerta, New York Life; and Eve Mullis, Women’s Assistant Basketball Coach, The University of Texas-Pan American. More information on the Women of Distinction and/or the RGVHCC is available by calling 928-0060.

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Edinburg’s retail economy in March 2014 showed an improvement of almost 11 percent over the same month last year, representing one of the best gains among major Valley economies, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Edinburg also registered a rate of growth better than the state average for March 2014, which showed a 5.6 percent increase over the same month in 2013. Based on the amount of local sales taxes collected, which reflects the strength of an economy, Edinburg’s retail sector generated more than $1.7 million in local sales taxes in March 2014, compared with almost $1.6 million in March 2013. For the first three months of 2014, Edinburg’s retail economy also posted a double-digit upswing over the same period last year, generating $8,028,833.80 in local sales taxes, compared with $7,214,163.81 for January through March 2013 – a rise of 11.29 percent. Mayor Richard García, who also serves as president of the five-member Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors, said the March 2014 and January through March 2014 quarterly figures are consistent with the economic goals and strategies of the Edinburg City Council, the EEDC Board of Directors, and city and EEDC staff. “The greatest measure of a community’s growth, we believe, is the growth in sales tax,” the mayor observed. “This kind of success and growth does not happen without vision, planning, and a very deliberate plan of action. Our City Council and our city staff are a team of professionals whose focus, priority, and responsibility is this, our beloved city.” The positive retail sales figures are helped by dozens of new and planned businesses in the past year, he added. “When it comes to economic development we have more than 50 new businesses that have opened within the last year or are under construction right now aimed at improving our quality of life: Wal-Mart with 360 new jobs and a new planned HEB along with Taco Palenque, two Starbucks, IHop, Two Popeye’s, University Drafthouse, Thirsty Bronc, Kahn’s Grill, Chic-Fil-A, Wingstop, Subway, Pizza Hut, Siempre Natural, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Easy Cuts, Moon Beans, Drunken Clam, Burrito Bar, Lanadees, La Mexicana, Taquería el Zarape, Pizza Patrón, Walgreens, CVS, McDonalds, Las Cazuelas, Big Lots, Party City, Carters, Burkes Outlet, GNC, Melrose, Chopstix, Gorditas Doña Tota, Dairy Queen, Cordons Taste of Chicago, CTC Distributing, Johnny’s True Value,” García noted. Featured from left: Laura Lee Vela, Administrative Assistant, EEDC; Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, General Counsel, EEDC; Nelda T. Ramírez, Assistant Executive Director, EEDC; Leticia Reyes, Director of Business Development and Public Affairs, EEDC; Mayor Richard García; Fred Palacios, Secretary-Treasurer, Board of Directors, EEDC; and Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director, EEDC. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for April 2014 was 5.5 percent, the best showing in the city for any month since January 2008, and the second-best figure for all cities that month in the Rio Grande Valley, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. This latest positive news comes as Walmart announced the opening of its third major store in Edinburg. Mayor Richard García, featured left, who also serves as president of the five-member Board of Directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, noted that the city’s third Wal-Mart (the most among all Valley communities) is taking advantage of one of Edinburg’s key assets: U.S. Expressway 281/I69-Central. Located just south of the Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, the new Walmart has created 300 new jobs for the region. It is near the intersection of U.S. 281/I69-Central and Canton Road, an area that in the past few years has become one of busiest in the city, the mayor said. “The region’s Expressway 281/I69-Central is a huge piece of the success today and even greater of what to expect tomorrow: 13.5 miles of U.S. Highway 281/I69-Central from FM 2812 to the Pharr Interchange,” said García. Edinburg has the largest amount of freeway frontage than any other community in the Rio Grande Valley, “to the tune of 18 miles” compared to the three other largest cities with an estimated two miles of frontage each, he added. “This immense opportunity for growth has been discovered by large investors like Bert Ogden with the new Infinity Dealership, Fiesta Chevrolet, Holt Caterpillar, Walmart, HEB, the Shoppes at Rio Grande, the master planned community of La Sienna and our exciting mega-arena development,” García said. The mega-arena project involves a planned $50 million special events center to be built just off U.S. Expressway 281/I69-Central. For the month of April 2014, only McAllen (5.4 percent) had a better figure than Edinburg (5.5 percent), while the other major communities in the Valley had unemployment rates that ranged from 6.3 percent in Harlingen to 8.6 percent in Brownsville. The Valley’s three other most populous cities also had unemployment rates for April 2014 in single-digits: Mission (6.8 percent), Pharr (6.9 percent), and Weslaco (8.6 percent). From left in this image from May 19 at the University of Texas-Pan American are Edinburg Mayor Richard García, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rio Grande City Mayor Rubén O. Villarreal. See story later in this posting.

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