Each year, retirees from all over the U.S and Canada venture to the Rio Grande Valley area to spend the winter. These retirees, known as Winter Texans, provide a substantial boost to the region’s economy. In an effort to better understand their activities, interests and impact on the region, the Business and Tourism Research Center in the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas-Pan American and now The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley has conducted research on this market for 30 years.
This year’s study included 744 Winter Texans respondents and 63 RV and mobile home park manager/owner respondents. Winter Texan participants submitted survey responses at a Winter Texan Expo (15.5%), online (43%) or returned by mail a completed a hard copy version of the survey that was inserted in the Winter Texan Times newspaper (41.5%). The results of both the Winter Texan and the Park surveys are summarized here in seven sections: demographic characteristics and stay characteristics, expenditures in Mexico, expenditures in the Valley, Other winter destinations, Internet use and the Park study. Demographic Characteristics
The average Winter Texan participating in this year’s study: • is female (57.2%),
• is 72.3 years of age,
• is married (84.6%),
• is white (97%),
• is retired (91.9%) and has been retired for more than a year (88.6%),
• has at least some college (40.1%) or a bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree (32.8%),
• is in a 2-person household (86.8%),
• has an annual household income of $64,500 with 56.2% of Winter Texans having an income between $30,000 to $70,000, and
• comes from Minnesota (16.3%), Canada (14.3%), Iowa (9.7%), Wisconsin (8.8%), Illinois (7.7%), Missouri (5.7%), Michigan (6.8%) and Nebraska (3.0%).
Further, Winter Texans 65 years of age and older participating in this study are, on average, more educated and have a higher household income level than their counterparts in the U.S. population in general. There are fewer Winter Texans in the 65 to 69-year-old age range than in the U.S. population in general but more in the 70-years-of-age or older age range. Stay Characteristics Knowing where Winter Texans live while in the Valley, how long they stay, why they come and what they do while in the Valley is crucial to providing for their needs so they will continue to come and significantly impact the region’s economy.
This is the first winter for 5.4% of study respondents; but overall during their stay in the Rio Grande Valley, the typical Winter Texan in this study:
• has come to the Valley for 11.3 years,
• stayed in the Valley for 133 days,
• owns a Valley residence:
° 50.2% own a mobile home/park model ° 32.2% own an RV
° 5.0% own a house or condo
As in past years, most Winter Texans come to the Valley because of:
• the climate (80.8%),
• cost of living (70.9%),
• friendly people (60.8%), and
• the social activities (48.1%)
The most popular Valley activities for this year’s study participants include:
• visiting flea markets
• visiting historical sites
• attending festivals
• attending music or jam sessions
• going to the beach
• visiting wildlife/nature refuges
Overwhelmingly, the Winter Texan study participants plan to return to the Valley next year (95.5%), suggesting their satisfaction with the area. They reported that poor health (59.3%) or family reasons (28.5%) would be the most likely reasons to prevent them from returning. Economic Impact Included in this year’s report is a study of RV and mobile home parks where most Winter Texans typically stay. Using a listing of parks and information from questionnaires completed by park managers or owners, an estimated 106,000 Winter Texans or 56,700 households were in the Valley during the 2017-2018 winter season. On average, Winter Texans visited Mexico (85.3%) for an average of 5.1 trips during their stay in the Valley. They spent an average of $104 to $151 per trip, depending on the method used for estimation. With about 56,700 Winter Texan households in the Valley, the average, direct economic impact of Winter Texans on Mexico border towns is about $32 million. On the U.S. side, Winter Texan households spent an average of approximately $6,257 on routine, monthly purchases and about $3,058 on major, one-time purchases. This represents an average expenditure in the Valley of about $9,314 per household. By multiplying this average household expenditure times the estimated 56,700 Winter Texan households in the Valley, this study estimates that Winter Texans spent about $528 million, in nominal dollars, while in the Valley in 2017-2018.
By Manny Fernandez in Donna, Tex.
Meet the part-time Texans
It’s springtime on the border, and that means the winter season is winding down — the months when tens of thousands of retirees from Minnesota, South Dakota, Illinois and other parts of the Midwest adopt South Texas as their home away from home.
Retirees in swimsuits ride their bicycles to the pool, bright noodles tucked under their arms like jousting lances. They line the streets for golf-cart parades. They venture into Mexico, shopping for cheap medicine, getting pedicures, undergoing low-cost dental work and sipping goblet-sized margaritas.
They are known as Winter Texans, and they concentrate mainly in the Rio Grande Valley, the temperate region deep in South Texas that is also the place where the largest number of migrants has been crossing lately from Central America — President Trump has declared a national emergency along the border and stationed Army troops to help control the escalating influx. One of their base camps was a quarter-mile from where seniors at the Victoria Palms resort in Donna deploy by the dozens to occupy five pickleball courts.
The annual invasion of Midwesterners — and a number of Canadians — has decreased in recent years, but they remain an economic and cultural force. An estimated 106,000 Winter Texans spent about $528 million in the valley in the 2017-18 winter season, according to a survey by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. Tex-Mex restaurants fly welcome banners for them. There are Winter Texan newspapers, age-qualified RV parks, expos, cruises, theater productions and bumper stickers — one pickup truck in the border city of McAllen had two: “Iowa Winter Texan” and “I’m retired. Go around.”
“It gets me out of the snowbanks,” said Dean Miller, 58, a resident of Detroit Lakes, Minn., who spends the winter living and working at the Winter Ranch resort in Alamo. “You’ll go to some event down here and you’ll find your neighbor from back home.”
The majority of Winter Texans are white and in their early 70s. Many of them voted for Mr. Trump in 2016, and their very presence this winter quietly subverted the president’s assertion that the border is in crisis. They have been coming to the region for years — in some cases, their parents were Winter Texans, too — and the political dynamics and national-emergency rhetoric has no effect on how, or where, they spend their retirement.
“We don’t see what you see on TV,” said Terry Goss, the general manager of Victoria Palms, one of the largest Winter Texan communities, with up to 2,500 retirees.
What do Winter Texans see, exactly?
A slice of border life that looks nothing like what many Americans think of as border life. There was Nathan’s fourth annual Sock Hop at Ranchero Village in Weslaco one Friday. There were fish frys and riverboat tours, line dancing and karaoke sessions, bluegrass acoustic jams and nondenominational church services. At the Winter Ranch resort in Alamo one Monday afternoon, the Winter Ranch Players packed the house with three one-act plays, “The Ethel and Albert Comedies.” At Victoria Palms, Mr. Goss spoke standing next to a poster listing all the sold-out shows at the resort’s ballroom, one of them a Rolling Stones tribute band concert. Victoria Palms is so popular with Canadians that a Victoria Palms reunion is scheduled most summers near Toronto.
Margaret Hitzemann, 63, who normally lives in Onamia, Minn., spent the past two months in a townhouse in Port Aransas, near Corpus Christi. One rainy afternoon, she and her husband visited the Mexican tourist town of Nuevo Progreso. They bought crispy chapulines — crickets, a fried delicacy — and went into a pharmacy to buy some cheap medicine.
“We don’t take a lot of meds, so we were thinking, ‘Oh, let’s go down and get some cheap Tylenol and Advil and that kind of thing,’” Ms. Hitzemann said. “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this isn’t any cheaper than Walmart.’ So we ended up not buying any medications.”
In a region with a large Latino population and tolerant attitudes toward immigration — many people have family members on both sides of the border — culture clash with the Northerners is inevitable. The study released by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley included unedited messages from Winter Texans to local officials, and some of the sharpest comments read: “Be more American, less Mexican. This is not Mexico!” and “Have channel 5 respect Mr. Trump” and “Keep the grass cut, the trash picked up and speak English.”
Already, the exodus back north has started. The end of the season for many comes on Thursday, with the annual Winter Texan appreciation day in Nuevo Progreso.
For some, the season never ends. There are Converted Texans, former Winter Texans who settle in the valley for good. Kristi Collier, a McAllen native who runs a media and hospitality company that caters to Winter Texans called Welcome Home, Rio Grande Valley, hosts an annual Converted Texan Fiesta in April. (She leads a swearing-in ceremony.)
Among the ranks of the converted are Ken and Lois Lane, originally from Anchorage, who started spending winters at Victoria Palms in 2005. They now live there permanently in a double-wide mobile home.
“I think the cost of living here is very reasonable, compared to many other places,” said Mr. Lane, 73, a retired power dispatcher for an electrical company.
He and his wife visited Nuevo Progreso and hosted their son and his family from Iowa over spring break. The couple is in a unique category: sort of reverse Winter Texans.
“The motor home we kept and in the summer when it gets real hot, we go up north,” Mr. Lane said.