From the Senator's Desk . . .
March 12, 2009
As Americans across the country struggle with rising unemployment and home foreclosures, many families in the U.S. face harder times. Because of several initiatives that our community launched at the El Paso Economic Summit of 1998, El Paso is doing well when compared to the rest of the U.S....Our local economy is in better shape than the national economy, and El Paso is likely to weather the economic troubles better than most cities.
Written by Senator Eliot Shapleigh, www.shapleigh.org
"The El Paso Stimulus"
As Americans across the country struggle with rising unemployment and home foreclosures, many families in the U.S. face harder times. Because of several initiatives that our community launched at the El Paso Economic Summit of 1998, El Paso is doing well when compared to the rest of the U.S. According to the Comptroller's February 2009 report on the state's economy, between January 2008 and January 2009, the U.S. economy lost about 3.6 million jobs, while Texas’ nonfarm employment registered a stable 1.5 percent growth rate over the year. Job declines since the start of the year have been lower than the national average. Our local economy is in better shape than the national economy, and El Paso is likely to weather the economic troubles better than most cities
Here are the facts. The El Paso economy is the only metro region in Texas that has grown in 2008 and 2009. In December 2008, El Paso's employment rate—a leading indicator of economic prosperity—increased one percent, while Texas declined two percent overall and the U.S. declined five percent. By the end of the year, El Paso led the border region and surrounding areas in economic growth. Today, our unemployment rate is lower than the national average for the first time since 1972, and the El Paso housing market is doing well when compared to the national housing picture. The median price of a home in El Paso was $95,000 in 2004 and is now $135,000, an increase of about 42 percent. Moody’s Economy.com reported in October 2008 that puts El Paso among 58 of 379 cities that are expanding. According to their report, El Paso is one of 19 expanding metropolitan areas in Texas.
Here are four major initiatives underway that we call the "El Paso Stimulus:"
· Fort Bliss' expansion will have a major impact on our economy. Over the course of the Federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) transformation that began in 2005 and will end in 2012, our community will absorb at least 66,000 new troops and dependents. The economic impact of this transformation is significant, creating a stimulus of $3.7 billion annually into our economy for a total of $21.7 billion by 2012. This investment translates to 40,000 additional jobs in the El Paso region, including 2,000 high-salaried technical jobs. In construction alone at Ft. Bliss, $4.6 billion dollars in federal funding will be spent over the course of the BRAC process.
· Construction at UTEP and in area school districts will have a positive impact too. In 2007, voters approved a $230- million bond package for EPISD. Included were $142 million for new school construction, $55 million for existing school building additions, $4.5 million for technology, and $9.5 million for refurbishments such as new roofing. Previous bonds in the Ysleta and Socorro school districts continue to invest into the community. At UTEP, more than $235 million in construction and renovation are currently underway. A new bookstore, a swimming and fitness center, a new chemistry and computer sciences building, College of Health Sciences and School of Nursing buildings and a basketball complex are among the projects under construction. Approximately 500 jobs will be created.
· More than $1.3 billion has been allocated to improving roadways in El Paso County. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority and the City of El Paso have approved more than a dozen highway construction and aesthetic improvement projects, including interchange improvements on I-10 at UTEP, and widening several lanes on Loop 375, U.S. 54 and in Horizon. Using Obama stimulus money, this month TxDOT approved a $146 million construction project to create four ramps connecting Interstate 10 and Loop 375. These new "east side spaghetti bowl" additions could be completed within two years and could someday be expanded to eight connecting ramps. Because Federal dollars funded the new interchange, more money originally intended for its construction has been freed up for other area construction projects.
· The Medical Center of the Americas will open the first new medical school in the U.S. in 30 years. In July, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L. Foster School of Medicine and research facility will greet its first entering class. What used to be a Texas Tech-El Paso satellite for doctor training is now a fully accredited four-year medical school with two buildings constructed. The school took its first step toward accreditation in 2003, after the Texas Legislature approved $45 million in revenue bonds for three new classroom and research buildings. This initial investment was followed by a $48 million appropriation in 2007 to hire faculty and obtain accreditation. During this session, the El Paso delegation has committed to obtaining $48 million in base budget funding for the new medical school and $17 million for new clinical faculty. Medical Schools boom even in recessions because health is a $2.4 trillion industry in the U.S. Further, El Paso will need 680 new doctors to serve troops and families now on the way to Ft. Bliss. Along with other new and expanded health care facilities, the school will serve as the catalyst for bringing well-paying professional jobs to our city to meet those needs. The new four-year school is among several major health care projects under way in El Paso. The University Medical Center of El Paso—formerly Thomason Hospital—has been Texas Tech’s partner in medical training for 40 years, has recently begun a $250-million expansion project that includes a new children’s hospital. In November 2007, voters approved the issuance of $120 million in hospital bonds to add a children's hospital to the El Paso County Hospital District. Construction began in February 2009 and is expected to create 600 to 800 construction jobs.
During the 81st Legislative Session, we are also working hard to guarantee state highway funding, fund new BRAC-related public schools, grow the CHIP program, and secure $58 million to build a second medical science research building, a 150,000-square-foot research facility to complement the four-year medical school and facilitate its ability to meet the growing needs of its academic programs and conduct the research necessary to address the chronic border health issues in El Paso. We also expect significant investments in CHIP, Medicaid and transportation through federal stimulus funding
During the '90s, we worked hard to rebrand our future. Most economists believe that the U.S. still faces tough times through 2009. El Paso is not immune to the downturn, and certainly regional manufacturing - especially in Juarez - will be impacted. However, as Dan Olivas, past president of the Greatere El Paso Association of realators, testified at a recent UTEP roundtable, you as an El Pasoan must "not listen to what the national media" says, but rather "[s]peak passionately at your clubs and organizations about why we can weather this economic storm." With Ft. Bliss, the Medical Center of the Americas, Downtown renewal, UTEP improvement, a record package of TxDOT highwayprojects and the new children's hospital — we are in as good a position as any community in Texas to weather the storm and keep El Paso moving forward.
Keep the faith.