EDA AmeriCorps VISTA Develops Interactive Map to Promote Regional Assets in Lower Rio Grande Valley
In 2017, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council (LRGVDC) a grant for “Explore Rio Grande Valley” (Explore RGV), an interactive platform that showcases the history and attractiveness of South Texas. The project’s goal is to boost regional tourism and promote the active engagement of residents. To enhance the capacity of the team spearheading the Explore RGV project, LRGVDC partnered with the EDA VISTA Corps to onboard Carlos Garza as their first term Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA).Garza has spent the first six months of his AmeriCorps VISTA term working with the LRGVDC team to research the surrounding area and develop a comprehensive asset map of the region. Together the team identified about 500 sites throughout Willacy, Hidalgo and Cameron Counties to include in the program.
Carlos Garza during graduation at University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley.
The mapping process has been used to leverage strong partnerships with community residents, local businesses, chambers of commerce, visitors’ bureaus and the RGV Partnership—a local organization helping to unify stakeholders in the Rio Grande Valley by providing in-kind support to Explore RGV. In April, LRGVDC conducted a photo contest for the Explore RGV project. Participants were asked to submit photos highlighting the region in categories that included shopping; outdoor and recreation; museums and culture; and attractions and entertainment. Four winners received a basket with local prizes promoting the regional strengths behind Explore RGV and the team was able to gather digital assets to highlight local attractions.
Originally from McAllen, TX, Garza has seen first-hand the opportunity the Explore RGV platform has to empower local small businesses, residents and tourists to attain greater exposure and to tap into their community’s hidden treasures.
“Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA has given me the opportunity to give back to the community that has given so much to me,” Garza said. “LRGVDC’s initiatives unify the large Lower Rio Grande Valley region by filling in the gaps that are needed to achieve economic impact.”
Throughout the project, Garza has served to ensure information is concise and finalized for publication. As the program builds a sustainable foundational website and mobile application, the platform will be continuously updated as the regional economy grows. Their team is working towards a $60,000 in-kind fundraising goal to secure the resources necessary for future phases of the project.
In addition to the Explore RGV project, Garza has been working with LRGVDC on an update to the 2017-2022 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) called RGV2020. The "special-edition" CEDS plan will be submitted in the fall and will prioritize key projects to be implemented by the end of the decade. Community forums and a CEDS Steering Committee have been organized with several city officials and stakeholders to delve into the strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats of the Rio Grande Valley region.
Carlos Garza is a 2018 graduate of the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in economics. Last year, Garza interned at the U.S. capital in Washington DC through the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI). He served as an officer for his university’s Pre-Law Society and plans to attend law school after his VISTA term.