And even the trajectory of McAllen and the region haven't been bump-free.
Maquilas in Mexico have also lost some work over the years to cheaper labor in Asia, including China. More recently as wages in China have risen, some economists see some "near shoring" of work back to Mexico that would allow manufacturers to save on transportation costs, given the shorter distance to U.S. markets.
The broader context is the North American Free Trade Agreement.
NAFTA, which went into force in 1994, scrapped many tariffs between the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Critics from both the right and the left charge the agreement has hurt manufacturers, reduced jobs and eroded labor conditions.
But in this political vortex, scrappy McAllen has proven it can not only survive — but thrive amid the ebbs and flows of the global economy. McAllen unemployment in the 1980s, pre-NAFTA, was some 28 percent. Unemployment now is around 4.6 percent.
Companies in McAllen-Reynosa are "buying components, products from the U.S. side, which means that they are supporting jobs in McAllen and in the U.S.," says Patridge.
Other Texas border cities including El Paso, Laredo and Brownsville exhibit similar economic integration with manufacturing activity in northern Mexico, says Coronado.