EDITORIAL: Valley pushes Texas economy to top spot; trade a big factor

Texas has the best business climate of all the 50 U.S. states. And the McAllen area and Rio Grande Valley in general are given due credit for their contributions to that designation.

“Jobs are growing in McAllen, with large gains seen in retail, education and health services. And continuing job growth is predicted,” Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in an opinion column published July 11 in The Monitor.

Abbott’s comments announced that CNBC named the state as America’s Top State for Business.

The cable network scored all states on more than 60 measures of economic competitiveness that included infrastructure, access to capital, work force, technology and costs of living and doing business.

It’s no secret that our state’s economy is huge. If Texas were a country, it’s gross domestic product — the value of all goods and services produced here — of $1.7 trillion would make it the 10th largest economy in the world.

And it’s growing — 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2017. Annual growth above 3 percent is enough to put smiles on analysts’ faces.

While Abbott touted local job growth, in an interview with CNBC he also credited international trade. More trade moves through Texas than any other state, and our largest trading partners — like the country’s as a whole — are Mexico and Canada.

The Republican governor has clashed with President Donald Trump on the issue, and sent Trump a letter against scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“If the president wants to have a good economy for the United States of America, he needs to have a reasonable trade policy that will be good for Texas,” Abbott told CNBC’s Scott Cohn.

Border officials repeated that message last week in Washington.

“Living on the border we have witnessed firsthand the local positive impact (of NAFTA),” Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz, who is chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, told members of the U.S. Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness on July 18. He added that the agreement “fuels vast trade economic opportunities for U.S. workers, farmers, consumers and businesses.”

“The protection of NAFTA is imperative,” he said.

Saenz noted that since the agreement was implemented in 1994, U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico has grown to $1.3 trillion. Some 14 million U.S. jobs depend on that trade, and $650 billion in traded goods cross Texas’ ports of entry per year.

Five million of those NAFTA-generated jobs are in Texas, according to Sergio Contreras, president of the Weslaco-based Rio Grande Valley Partnership and vice chairman of the Border Trade Alliance, who also testified before the Senate subcommittee.

Contreras and Saenz voiced a need for more investment to support trade, including physical improvements and more customs staffing at our ports of entry.

The need for such improvements is real, and constant. A mere five minutes taken to inspect each vehicle that crosses our border means only 12 can cross in an hour at any one lane. That hardly handles the thousands of vehicles that cross our bridges every day. Any improvements that speed up border crossings, from adding lanes and inspectors to upgrading X-ray scanners and other hardware, will pay off in added trade, which means more revenue for our economy, and more jobs for our workers.

We trust the officials’ testimony brings results; its chairman is Sen. John Cornyn of San Antonio, who has long supported trade and written several bills investing in border improvements.

Convincing Cornyn’s colleagues to recognize the value of cross-border trade would help keep Texas, and our country in general, at the top of the economic mountain.