economy

Upper Rio Grande Region Snapshot

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As the state's chief financial officer, I am charged with monitoring the economic health of our state. Therefore, it's vitally important that my office studies factors related to our regional economies.

The six counties comprising the Upper Rio Grande Region cover the westernmost portion of the state along the Rio Grande bordering Mexico, including the Big Bend.

Below, we track regional trends in population growth, personal income, jobs and wages, education and health care access — a wildcard issue that, if left unaddressed, is of particular concern to the region.

Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Upper Rio Grande Region Counties

  • Brewster
  • Culberson
  • El Paso
  • Hudspeth
  • Jeff Davis
  • Presidio

Most mountain ranges in Texas are located in the Upper Rio Grande Region.

Source: Rio Grande Council of Governments, SummitPost and the National Park Service

Key Industries 2016

  • Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing
  • Apparel Manufacturing
  • Textile Mills
  • Federal Government (Military)
  • Electrical Equipment, Appliance and Component Manufacturing
  • Data Processing, Hosting and Related Services
  • Crop Production
  • Truck Transportation

Population Growth

Upper Rio Grande Region vs. Texas and U.S., 2004-2014

  • Region: 16%
  • Texas: 20%
  • U.S.: 9%

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

El Paso County is the region's smallest county in land area but contains 97 percent of the region's population.

Source: Rio Grande Council of Governments and U.S. Census Bureau

Big Bend National Park hosts an average 300,000 visitors each year. In 2013, they spent nearly $27 million.

Source: National Park Service and Headwaters Economics

Personal Income

Personal income in the Upper Rio Grande Region has risen from $16.7 billion in 2004 to $27.4 billion in 2014. It accounted for 2.2 percent of the state's $1.23 trillion in personal income in 2014.

Upper Rio Grande Region Income Highlights
County 2014 Per Capita Income 10-Year Per Capita Income Growth
Brewster $40,576 37%
Culberson $36,353 99%
Jeff Davis $34,495 48%
Presidio $32,614 84%
El Paso $31,816 42%
Hudspeth $27,317 59%

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Per Capita Personal Income Growth, 2004-2014

  • Region: 42%
  • Texas: 47%
  • U.S.: 34%

Per capita personal income grew 42 percent, lower than the state's 47 percent average.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Jobs and Wages

El Paso had the lowest crime rate ranking for a U.S. city its size for four consecutive years.

Source: El Paso Times

Job Growth, 2004-2014

  • Region: 17.6%
  • Texas: 21.7%
  • U.S.: 5.5%

Source: Economic Modeling Specialists Intl.

The Upper Rio Grande Region added nearly 50,000 jobs from 2004 to 2014. El Paso County led this expansion, accounting for all of the region's net job gains.

At $38,191, the regional average wage was lower than the state average of $52,537.

Education

Upper Rio Grande Region Public High School Graduates, 2014

  • El Paso: 98%
  • Other counties in Upper Rio Grande Region: 2%

The University of Texas at El Paso generates an annual economic impact of $1.3 billion for El Paso County.

Source: The University of Texas at El Paso

El Paso County produces 98 percent of the region's public high school graduates.

Only ten school districts in the entire region had more than 100 graduates in 2012.

Source: Texas Education Agency and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Economic Development

The Upper Rio Grande Region lags behind the state in economic growth. It has the state's third-highest unemployment rate. Compensation in key industries declined by 24 percent from 2001 to 2014. El Paso, the region's largest city, is the only metropolitan statistical area in Texas to experience a decline in real per capita gross regional product (GRP).

A lack of economic diversity plays a key role in slowing the economy. Top industries claim a much greater share of jobs and GRP in the Upper Rio Grande than they do statewide. Government plays a particularly large role — it has three times the impact on the region's GRP than it does in Texas as a whole. Meanwhile, the economic contributions of most other sectors fall short of state averages.

Share of Per Capita Real GRP* Upper Rio Grande Region vs. Texas 2001-2013
Area 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
El Paso MSA 0.0% 2.0% 0.9% -1.2% -2.3% 1.7% 2.0% -4.8% -6.9% -7.7% -9.1% -8.3% -6.5% -6.5%
Texas 0.0% -0.2% -1.1% 2.1% 2.2% 5.3% 7.9% 6.4% 3.9% 4.9% 6.9% 11.5% 15.8% 18.9%

*Real chained 2001 dollars, indexed to 2001.
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis and Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Conclusion

Despite the attraction of its magnificent mountains and iconic Texas landscape, the Upper Rio Grande Region saw nominal economic growth from 2003 to 2013.

Visitors flock to places like Big Bend National Park and Marfa, which has emerged as a thriving art community. Guadalupe Peak, in Culberson County, is the highest point in Texas.

El Paso County continues to drive regional job growth, and wages, though steadily increasing, lag behind the rest of the state.

The region's lack of business diversity hinders its economic development and could impede the region's future prosperity.

Investments in the workforce and private sector could stimulate growth in lagging industrial sectors, however.

Overall, the region has a strong public sector that will serve as a stable foundation for closing industrial gaps and driving prosperity.

Questions?

Contact the Comptroller's Data Analysis and Transparency Division at 800-531-5441, ext. 6-9231, or via email.