BROWNSVILLE — Ask most people to put together a list of the 20 most prosperous cities in America and it’s not likely many would think to include Brownsville, a community with a persistently high poverty rate situated in one of the poorest counties in the nation.
A report from Rent Café, which crunched census numbers for 303 cities with populations of at least 100,000,does just that, however. Brownsville is ranked ninth in the online rental locator’s “Most Prosperous Cities in the United States” list released May 15, the only South Texas city to make the top 20, or the top 10 for that matter.
Odessa is ranked first and Midland is No. 10 — odd considering the two cities compose the same West Texas metropolitan area. Pearland is in eighth place. Laredo, McAllen and Corpus Christi are ranked 27th, 50th and 74th, respectively. Economic powerhouses Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston appear nowhere on the list.
Rather than focusing on conventional metrics of wealth, the rankings are based on progress (or at least not losing ground) in six “prosperity indicators.” The indicators are population, income, home value, higher education, poverty rate, and unemployment.
Part of Brownsville’s 9th place showing is based on a 30-percent growth in population since the last census, though unskilled, lowincome residents make up a large portion of that growth. Brownsville’s median household income is $34,255, according to the most recent government estimate. Texas median household income is $56,565 compared to $57,617 nationally.
Rent Café’s income indicator showsnomovementin income rate since the last census, though the compilation of statistics underlines a 9-percent decline in Brownsville’s poverty rate and a 28-percent drop in the unemployment rate. The report also notes a 21-percent rise in home values and 35-percent increase in the percentage of the population with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Gilberto Salinas, interim director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp., the city’s economic development arm, said “most improved” rather than “most prosperous” might have been a better name for the report, though it contains positive news for Brownsville all the same.
“What it signals to us in economic development is that there has been a lot of work to get Brownsville to the point that we’re at today, and those indicators that they’re using show that Brownsville has the makings for a sustainable community,” he said.
The progress that’s been made toward diversifying the city’s economic base is key to that, Salinas said, adding that his takeaway from the report is that “the best is yet to come.” He cited a recent surge in new investment by companies, such as Cardone Industries, CK Technologies, MVPPlastics,SATAUSAand SpaceX, which is expected to launch its first rocket from Boca Chica beach in 2019.
Also, Greyhound Lines Inc., which said it plans to bring a bus refurbishing and final assembly operation to Brownsville, is busy retrofitting a warehouse complex at Billy Mitchell Boulevard and Central Avenue that once housed the Silver Eagle Bus Manufacturing company.
Salinas said GBIC is talking to other businesses about coming to Brownsville but currently has no announcements to make. Business recruitment is a slow-moving process, he said.
“The bigger they are the slower they move,” Salinas said.