The expanding healthcare and bioscience industry in the Rio Grande Valley is leading the region’s overall economic advancement, according to a report recently published by two local organizations.

RGV Partnership and Workforce Solutions collaborated on a comprehensive report detailing the contribution of healthcare and bioscience establishments to the Valley’s growing economy over the past decade.

The report, RGV Partnership CEO Sergio Contreras said, showcases both the headway the local healthcare industry has made so far, and areas where improvement is needed.

First, he noted the significant number of wages and jobs the medical field provides to the community. It was found that from 2009 to 2019, the 3,256 healthcare and bioscience business in the region injected $13.7 billion into the Valley’s economy. Additionally, within the same timeframe, 43% of the new jobs created across the region were in the medical field, or 31,581 positions.

There are currently 163,530 healthcare and bioscience jobs in the Valley.

Contreras said all sectors of the Valley’s healthcare industry — including emergency centers, hospital systems, nursing homes, private practices — were considered for the report, entitled the “Economic Impact Study of the RGV Healthcare & Bioscience Industry.”

Research began in fall 2019, and the findings were published last month.

Frank Almaraz, CEO of Workforce Solutions, said much of the medical field’s development in the past decade can be traced back to the establishment of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s School of Medicine in 2014 because of the opportunities it offers to local students.

“There has always been a need for something like that in the Valley, so we are just fortunate we are able to secure a medical school here locally,” Almaraz said.

The average age of the Valley’s population ranges from 27 to 29 years old, which Contreras noted is nearly 10 years younger than the national average of 35-27. This means more people in the region are either in school or early in their careers.

According to the report, $659.5 million worth of investment has been made in the medical school thus far, generating around 1,000 jobs.

In addition to documenting the progress of the medical field in the region, Contreras said he hopes local economic development centers will use the report data to understand the importance of being “aligned with school districts and colleges to create and engage in career paths that help folks get above the average pay.”

The average wage in the healthcare industry, according to the report, is $34,206 a year. Among the Valley’s range of medical care services, home health and nursing homes make up nearly half of the healthcare industry in the Valley, being 42% of the workforce.

Additionally, $3.3 billion of annual wages and salaries was paid to those in local healthcare and bioscience fields of work in the past decade.

“This industry allows our population to get higher wages, and that is why we are pushing for more people here to pursue healthcare careers,” Contreras said.

He added that since the Valley is more than 90% Hispanic — a population known to be susceptible to various chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity — the community demand for a strong healthcare field goes deep.

And the COVID-19 pandemic made that need much clearer, Contreras said.

“You saw how we were bringing in individuals from out of town to help our system,” he said. “The pandemic has shown us the need for us to be able to have short-distanced supplies, short-distanced staff.”

In the next decade, the report projects, local healthcare and bioscience industries will grow by 32%, adding 40,550 new jobs.

Almaraz said his hope for the Valley’s medical industry is for it to be able to rely on local businesses to tend to their medical equipment. According to the report, local hospitals spent an average of $1.1 million annually on outside vendors and contractors to maintain and repair their advanced medical equipment.

“To me that was surprising, how much we are spending outside of the Valley on repairs,” Almaraz said. “It’s an opportunity for us to look and see how we can develop that talent here in the RGV so we don’t have to go outside and to other people — so that the money can stay here.”

Contreras added the report should not only spur interest in careers in the medical field, but also in jobs in business and technology that support the healthcare industry.

“That is where the opportunity is now, to drive entrepreneurship here in the Valley to encourage folks to educate themselves and repair our own equipment locally,” Contreras said.

Almaraz added that in coming years, in addition to opening more diabetes centers and conducting research about chronic diseases, he forecasts that much of the growth of the medical field will be in facilitating telehealth services.

“One of the things we have learned a lot with COVID across all industries are virtual meetings, virtual appointments — everything is becoming virtual as far as health care,” he said. “I see telemedicine really increasing as technology evolves more. That is what I am thinking we are going to see a lot more of in the future.

“I think we really caught up to where we needed to be, but I still think there are a lot more opportunities to grow.”

Contreras said a sturdy and thriving healthcare industry is the foundation of fostering a more developed economy in the Valley.

“It will help improve access to healthcare and also improve the quality of life for our region,” he said.

RGV Partnership is an organization with the mission of driving advancement in the area through collaboration among local businesses. Workforce Solutions, which operates through the Texas Workforce Commission, focuses on responding to the needs of local workers by initiating market-driven workforce development initiatives.

Data for the report was collected through IMPLAN, a nationally recognized software used for estimating economic impacts. The study cost $7,000, which was funded through federal money awarded to Workforce Solutions from the Texas Workforce Commission Texas Industry Partnership Grant.