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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts


The Upper Rio Grande Region2020 Regional Report

This analysis predates the COVID-19 crisis and the economic impacts that followed. It is offered as an overview of the Upper Rio Grande regional economy and a resource for comparative purposes.

The six-county Upper Rio Grande region covers about 21,700 square miles in western Texas. It stretches from the most western part of the state, where the state line meets Mexico and New Mexico, along the Rio Grande past Big Bend and up to the New Mexico border around the area of Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

The Upper Rio Grande region includes one metropolitan statistical area (MSA), the El Paso MSA, comprising El Paso and Hudspeth counties. Counties in the region not associated with an MSA include Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio counties. The region’s economic center is the city of El Paso in El Paso County.

This report examines regional economic trends including population, household income, jobs and wages and education, as well as economic conditions unique to the Upper Rio Grande region.


The Upper Rio Grande region’s estimated total 2019 population was about 865,000, or 3 percent of the state’s total population. This represented an increase of about 5 percent (almost 40,000 people) since the 2010 Census. An estimated 97.1 percent of the region’s population was concentrated in El Paso County in 2019.

From 2010 to 2019, the region’s population grew at a slower pace than the state’s. While the population of each county in the region saw change during this period, Hudspeth County outpaced all others, growing by 40 percent — 2.5 times as fast as the state average (Exhibit 1).

Exhibit 1
Upper Rio Grande Region Population by County, 2010 and 2019
County 2010 Census Estimate
(as of July 2019)
Change 2010 to 2019 Percent Change
Brewster 9,232 9,203 -29 -0.3%
Culberson 2,398 2,171 -227 -9.5%
El Paso 800,647 839,238 38,591 4.8%
Hudspeth 3,476 4,886 1,410 40.6%
Jeff Davis 2,342 2,274 -68 -2.9%
Presidio 7,818 6,704 -1,114 -14.2%
El Paso MSA 804,123 844,124 40,001 5.0%
Upper Rio Grande Region Total 825,913 864,476 38,563 4.7%
Texas Total 25,145,561 28,995,881 3,850,320 15.3%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Population Composition

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey, the Upper Rio Grande region’s median age was on par with that of the state. El Paso County had the largest population in the region. With a 2018 median age of 31.6 years, it was “younger” than the state’s population (a median age of 34.2 years). The populations in the region’s five other counties have median ages significantly higher than the state’s. Jeff Davis County residents have a median age approaching 52 years, older than any other county in the region and one of the oldest in the state. The El Paso MSA’s median age is also younger than the state’s.

More than 81 percent of the Upper Rio Grande region’s total population was Hispanic, more than double the state’s Hispanic population share (Exhibit 2).

Household Income

The Upper Rio Grande region’s median household income was $44,374 in 2018, significantly lower than the state average. Texas’ household income is generally distributed among five income levels. Of more than 9 million Texas households, 21 percent had incomes less than $25,000 in 2018, while 17 percent had incomes greater than $125,000. In every region in the state, nearly 18 percent of households had average incomes between $50,000 and $75,000. About 29 percent of the region’s residents had incomes of less than $25,000, while more than 57 percent had incomes of less than $50,000. Only 8.7 percent of households had average incomes greater than $125,000 (Exhibit 3).

Exhibit 2
Upper Rio Grande Region Population by Race and Ethnicity, 2018
Ethnicity Upper Rio Grande Region State Total
Hispanic 81.2% 38.6%
Black (not Hispanic) 3.0% 11.6%
White (not Hispanic) 13.5% 43.4%
Other 2.3% 6.3%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Exhibit 3
Upper Rio Grande Region and Texas Household Income Percentile, 2018
Income Level Upper Rio Grande Region State Total
less than $25,000 29.0% 21.1%
$25,000 to $50,000 28.0% 23.0%
$50,000 to $75,000 17.8% 17.9%
$75,000 to $125,000 16.5% 20.6%
more than $125,000 8.7% 17.4%

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

Regional Industries

In 2019, the Upper Rio Grande region accounted for about 2.5 percent of the state’s total employment. Exhibit 4 lists the industries with the greatest regional employment concentrations compared to the national average, as measured by location quotient (LQ). LQ represents an industry’s proportionate concentration in the region; an LQ greater than 1.0 means that industry employment is more concentrated in the region than nationally. A high LQ can identify industries that have a competitive advantage in the region, such as the ability to produce products more efficiently and of a higher quality.

Based on location quotients, the Upper Rio Grande region is a leader in the leather and allied product manufacturing, apparel manufacturing and justice, public order and safety activities industries, making its private employment heavily reliant on the manufacturing sector.

Exhibit 4
Top 10 Upper Rio Grande Region Industries, 2019
Occupation LQ Number Employed Average Annual Wages
Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing 12.61 758 $32,038
Apparel Manufacturing 5.52 1,305 $33,294
Justice, Public Order and Safety Activities 2.61 10,958 $83,237
Truck Transportation 2.53 8,417 $47,179
Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing 2.51 618 $159,013
Museums, Historical Sites and Similar Institutions 2.39 1,296 $32,233
Administration of Housing Programs, Urban Planning and Community Development 1.83 396 $43,364
Heavy and Civil Engineering Construction 1.68 4,549 $55,485
Primary Metal Manufacturing 1.64 1,386 $58,732
Rental and Leasing Services 1.63 2,059 $50,482

Data are as of Q4 2019 except wage data, which are for covered employment in 2018.
Source: JobsEQ

U.S. Military Installation Impact

Texas has 14 U.S. military installations within its borders. In 2019, these bases directly employed more than 226,000 and supported nearly 634,000 jobs in all. In all, military installations in Texas contributed an estimated $75.3 billion annually to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP). Fort Bliss, the only military installation in the Upper Rio Grande region, had a significant positive impact on the Texas economy, supporting an estimated 131,000 jobs in 2019 and contributing about $15.6 billion to the state’s GDP (Exhibit 5).

Exhibit 5
U.S. Military Impact on the Upper Rio Grande Region Estimated 2019
Region Total Jobs Supported Contribution to State GDP
Upper Rio Grande 130,943 $15.6 billion
State of Texas 633,892 $75.3 billion

Sources: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas Military Preparedness Commission and REMI

Learn more about the impact of U.S. military installations on the state’s economy.

Jobs and Wages

The Upper Rio Grande region’s employment rose by nearly 16 percent from 2009 to 2019, and yet this was more than 6 percentage points below state employment growth. Employment in the El Paso MSA rose more than 16 percent over the same period (Exhibit 6). More than 97 percent of the region’s total jobs were in the El Paso MSA in 2019.

Exhibit 6
Upper Rio Grande Region Employment Trends, 2019
Area Number of Jobs (2019) Actual Change (2009 to 2019) Percent Change (2009 to 2019)
El Paso MSA 312,155 43,639 16.3%
Upper Rio Grande Region 320,658 43,439 15.7%
Texas 12,531,100 2,284,407 22.3%
United States 147,886,638 17,768,373 13.7%

Note: Figures include private- and public-sector employees with the exception of active-duty military personnel, railroad employees, religious institution employees and the self-employed.

Sources: JobsEQ and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Significant Regional Occupations

The Upper Rio Grande region’s most significant occupations are shown in Exhibits 7 and 8, first by location quotient and second by numeric growth during the last five years.

Exhibit 7
Top Occupations in the Upper Rio Grande Region by Location Quotient, 2014 to 2019
Occupation Number Employed Average Annual Wages LQ Unemployment Rate Five-Year Employment Change
Law Enforcement Workers 4,225 $63,000 1.63 1.0% 314
Textile, Apparel and Furnishings Workers 2,098 $21,500 1.55 5.1% -17
Communications Equipment Operators 267 $23,700 1.52 2.7% -59
Preschool, Primary, Secondary and Special Education School Teachers 13,600 $62,000 1.49 2.6% -139
Fire Fighting and Prevention Workers 1,036 $45,700 1.46 1.7% 132

Note: Data are as of Q4 2019 except wage data, which are for covered employment in 2018.

Source: JobsEQ

Exhibit 8
Top Occupations in the Upper Rio Grande Region by Numeric Growth, 2014 to 2019
Occupation Number Employed Average Annual Wages LQ Unemployment Rate Five-Year Employment Change
Other Personal Care and Service Workers 13,243 $19,300 1.37 5.0% 3,584
Food and Beverage Serving Workers 21,779 $19,700 1.28 6.4% 3,223
Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners 13,409 $95,900 1.07 1.0% 2,196
Motor Vehicle Operators 13,388 $38,800 1.33 3.3% 2,165
Construction Trades Workers 13,599 $33,200 1.09 6.3% 1,886

Note: Data are as of Q4 2019 except wage data, which are for covered employment in 2018.
Source: JobsEQ


A strong educational foundation provides a cornerstone for growth and competitiveness in the global economy, offering opportunities for workplace advancement and business expansion.

Wages by Educational Attainment

Post-secondary education delivers a good return on investments of time and tuition. In 2018, Upper Rio Grande region workers with some college or associate degrees and with stable jobs — defined as those employed with the same firm throughout a calendar quarter — earned an average of $6,090 more annually than high school graduates, while those with at least a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $21,783 more (Exhibit 9).

Exhibit 9
Average Annual Earnings by Educational Attainment, Upper Rio Grande Region and Texas, 2018
Educational Attainment Number Employed, Region Percent of Region Average Annual Earnings, Region Number Employed, Texas Percent of Texas Average Annual Earnings, Texas
Less than High School 82,797 26.6% $32,989 2,065,483 17.1% $42,808
High School or Equivalent, No College 67,533 21.7% $40,037 2,765,759 22.9% $52,035
Some College or Associate Degree 72,282 23.2% $46,127 3,245,675 26.9% $60,428
Bachelor’s Degree or Advanced Degree 41,457 13.3% $61,820 2,454,975 20.3% $95,716
Educational Attainment Unavailable 47,039 15.1% $22,516 1,544,282 12.8% $22,087
Total 311,109 $41,659 12,076,174 $58,787

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau and JobsEQ

During the 2017-18 school year, 87.3 percent of the Upper Rio Grande region’s class of public high school senior students graduated, lower than the state rate of 90 percent (Exhibit 10) and despite rising since the 2009-10 school year, the region’s high school graduation rate has remained consistently lower than the statewide rate.

Exhibit 10
Upper Rio Grande Region Public High School Graduation Rates, 2009-10 to 2017-18 School Year
Region2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Upper Rio Grande 81.0% 82.4% 84.3% 83.9% 83.6% 84.4% 85.9% 86.7% 87.3%
Texas 84.3% 85.9% 87.7% 88.0% 88.3% 89.0% 89.1% 89.7% 90.0%

Source: Texas Education Agency

Many high school graduates enroll in postsecondary programs, which offer greater job prospects and the possibility of higher wages. Residents of the Upper Rio Grande region have several options for higher educational achievement (Exhibit 11).

Exhibit 11 Upper Rio Grande Region Institutions of Higher Education


  • Sul Ross State University
  • The University of Texas at El Paso

Junior and Community Colleges

  • El Paso Community College District

Health Science Schools

  • Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center - El Paso

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

The Upper Rio Grande region’s only community college district provided technical and academic coursework for more than 28,000 students in the 2017-18 school year (Exhibit 12).

Exhibit 12
Upper Rio Grande Region Community College Overview, 2017-18 School Year
Community College District Enrollment Awards Average Tuition and Fees Academic Share of Students Enrolled Technical Share of Students Enrolled Enrolled or Employed, Academic* Enrolled or Employed, Technical*
El Paso Community College 28,241 4,428 $3,750 88.3% 11.7% 87.5% 81.0%

*The percentage of academic or technical graduates employed in the fourth quarter of the calendar year after graduation and/or enrolled in a Texas two- or four-year institution in the following fall after graduation, as specified.

Source: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board

The El Paso Community College District awarded more than 3,500 certificates and associate degrees in health professions in the 2017-18 school year; the next most common awards were for general studies and liberal arts and mechanic and repair technologies (Exhibit 13).

Exhibit 13
Top 10 Certificates and Degree Awards in the Upper Rio Grande Region’s Community College, 2017-18 School Year
Certificates and Degrees Number Awarded
Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences 3,543
Liberal Arts and Sciences, General Studies and Humanities 1,515
Mechanic and Repair Technologies/Technicians 954
Business, Management, Marketing and Related Support Services 686
Personal and Culinary Services 501
Security and Protective Services 449
Computer and Information Sciences and Support Services 326
Education 176
Biological and Biomedical Sciences 165
Psychology 163

Source: JobsEQ

Regional Economy

The health of the Upper Rio Grande region’s economy can be measured by its sales tax revenue and by comparisons with other areas on education, population, per capita income and unemployment rate. Together, these data are good indicators of the region’s economic dynamics and competitiveness.

Sales Tax Revenue

Sales taxes are inherently volatile in the short term but when reviewed over time can provide a useful indication of the state’s economic condition.

Sales receipts subject to state sales tax directly attributable to the Upper Rio Grande region trended upward in the past decade (Exhibit 14), with consistently positive movement since the 2009 recession. This region regained its pre-recession sales number fastest, and 2019 receipts indicated that this steady climb is continuing. For 2019, receipts subject to state sales tax directly attributable to businesses in the Upper Rio Grande region approached $8.5 billion, contributing about 1.5 percent to the state’s overall taxable sales. The El Paso MSA directly accounted for $8.2 billion of this total.

Exhibit 14
Upper Rio Grande Region, Taxable Sales, 2007-2019
Year Revenue Upper Rio Grande Region
2007 6.0 billion dollars
2008 6.1 billion dollars
2009 5.9 billion dollars
2010 6.2 billion dollars
2011 6.4 billion dollars
2012 6.7 billion dollars
2013 6.9 billion dollars
2014 7.2 billion dollars
2015 7.5 billion dollars
2016 7.6 billion dollars
2017 7.8 billion dollars
2018 8.2 billion dollars
2019 8.5 billion dollars

Note: Numbers shown are for reported revenue subject to sales tax and directly attributed to the region.
Source: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

In 1997, the U.S., Canada and Mexico jointly released the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), which classifies all business enterprises for the purpose of collecting, analyzing and publishing economic statistics. A review of two-digit NAICS codes allows for a broad analysis of industry sectors.

The Upper Rio Grande region’s retail trade sector contributed most to taxable sales in 2019, representing 54.6 percent of the region’s taxable sales. Other industries of note wwere the food service and accommodation and wholesale trade sectors, with a combined 25 percent of the region’s reported taxable sales.

Upper Rio Grande Region vs. the U.S.

Exhibit 15 illustrates how the Upper Rio Grande region compares among other states and the nation on a number of demographic and economic measures. If it were a state, the region would be the 42nd largest state in terms of land area (just behind West Virginia) and have the 47th largest population.

Exhibit 15
Upper Rio Grande Region Compared to the U.S.
Measure Upper Rio Grande Region Rank if Region
were a State
Texas State Rank U.S.
Square Miles 21,712 42 268,597 2 3,531,905
Population 2019 864,476 47 28,995,881 2 328,239,523
Population with at least a High School Diploma, 2018 77.3% 51 83.2% 49 87.7%
Population with Bachelor’s Degree or Higher, 2018 22.9% 48 29.3% 28 31.5%
Population Under 18 Years, 2018 26.9% 2 25.8% 2 22.4%
Population 65 Years and Above, 2018 12.6% 48 12.6% 48 16.0%
Population Percent Change, 2010 to 2019 4.7% 25 15.3% 2 6.3%
Per Capita Income, 2018 $36,063 51 $50,355 26 $54,446
Unemployment Rate, 2019 3.8% 35 3.5% 27 3.7%

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Upper Rio Grande Regional Summary

The Upper Rio Grande region is predominantly rural with a strong urban core and a steady, consistent economy. El Paso County, with the city of El Paso at its center, is the region’s economic hub.

The region and its six counties have many unique economic conditions and challenges. El Paso County is home to 97 percent of the region’s population and is significantly younger than the statewide average age. This is offset by the less-populated counties, whose populations all are significantly older than the state. Of the region’s households, 57 percent had average incomes of less than $50,000 in 2018.

In the past decade, the Upper Rio Grande region’s economy has shown a gradual yet continuously positive trajectory. It has seen solid job growth, although at rates slightly below the state average. The region’s most highly concentrated industries, manufacturing and public safety and the U.S. military base at Fort Bliss have played key roles in keeping the region’s economy robust.


If you have any questions or concerns regarding the material on this page, please contact the Comptroller’s Data Analysis and Transparency Division.