Located at the extreme southern tip of Texas and the continental U.S., Brownsville is a thriving border town and minor resort area mainly serving wintering Texans. It anchors the subtropical Lower Rio Grande Valley, a vast area spreading 60 miles west and 30 miles north, a business-friendly area clustered with small towns, agriculture, and commercial and manufacturing interests tied to Mexico and free trade status. Brownsville is a major trading center and “maquiladora” or border zone manufacturing center for U.S. companies and an international seaport. There are Gulf Coast beach areas about 20 miles east of town at the mouth of the Rio Grande, notably South Padre Island, a favorite winter and spring-break destination.
Recent economic statistics are mixed with high unemployment but strong projected job growth. In recent decades, the region has undergone rapid growth as industries have located to take advantage of inexpensive labor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and ocean shipping. Industry is diverse with everything from food processing to petrochemicals to paper bags and hats. The city has a large Hispanic population and a sizable Hispanic middle class. The intersection between the Hispanic and Anglo cultures adds interest.
The University of Texas at Brownsville, a consolidation of previous higher education institutions, has 11,500 students. There are few cultural or recreational amenities outside of watersports and cross-border shopping, and though home prices are reasonable, parts of the city have problems with traffic, unemployment, and substandard housing. Harlingen, a smaller city about 25 miles northwest in the Rio Grande Valley, has an Air Force base and is also an industrial and transportation center largely connected to Mexico and the free-trade market.
The surrounding country is mainly level agricultural land with marshy coastal areas to the east. The Gulf of Mexico is the dominant climate influence. Prevailing southeast Gulf breezes provide a humid but generally mild tropical-like climate. Winds are frequently strong and gusty in the spring. October through April temperatures are mild, with highs in the 70’s and 80’s. For the remainder of the year, highs are in the 90’s with lows in the 70’s. Hot, dry winds out of Mexico can yield temperatures of 100 degrees. Cold weather is infrequent and of short duration. The heaviest rains occur in late spring and again in early fall with some extended periods of cool rainy weather in winter. Torrential rains may accompany tropical storms or hurricanes that occasionally move over the area in summer or fall.