Much of the Rio Grande Valley's economy is dependant on so-called 'Winter Texans,' Midwestern retirees who ditch the cold and snow every winter and pack RV parks from Brownsville and South Padre Island west to McAllen.
But, as planning is underway for the upcoming arrival of the Winter Texans, disturbing new statistics show the number of people wintering in the Valley is down sharply. Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports research done by U.T. Pan American shows that 144,000 Winter Texans spend the winter of 2010 in the Valley, while, by 2014, that number had fallen to barely 100,000.
And the average age of the retirees who came last year was 72, one of the highest ever.
Researcher Penny Simpson says one of the problems is that many recent Midwestern retirees don't know about the Rio Grande Valley.
"If we can just get them down here to see all of the great activities that we have, including South Padre Island and the beautiful beach front, I think they'll see it and they'll come back," she said.
Many in the Valley have been worried about over hyped claims that the region is a 'war zone' and that people who live there are 'in danger' due to the 'crisis along the border.' They point out the Rio Grande Valley's low crime rate, and point out that it is probably easier to spot an illegal immigrant on the streets of Chicago than in Brownsville.
"We saw this same situation fifteen years ago," Simpson said. "We started going to trade shows and travel shows, to get new people down here."
But there is another problem which may be more disturbing for the Rio Grande Valley...retirement itself is changing.
People born in the thirties and forties, who have retired in the last twenty years, had the most generous retirement benefits in American history. Defined benefit pension plans and early retirement ages allows an entire generation of middle class retirees to ditch home for several months a year and take up residence in warmer climates, secure in the knowledge that the pension checks would keep coming.
But Baby Boomers born in the fifties and later are far less likely to have those pensions, as almost all private companies have replaced those benefits with 'defined contribution plans' like 401k's. The longer life span enjoyed today doesn't help the Winter Texan movement either, with retirees concerned about 'not outliving their money' are behaving more frugally and, in many cases, dropping things like regular winter travel to warm climates.