El Paso, Texas is ranked the safest large city in the United States, according to leading reference publisher CQ Press. But it borders one of North America’s deadliest—Juarez, Mexico where 3,000 people were murdered last year.
City leaders say this proximity to Juarez is creating some misconceptions of the area, and costing the city money.
So officials, business owners, and several other industry leaders are teaming up in a task force to develop a new way of how outsiders view El Paso.
“We had the Texas downtown convention here last fall, and we would get phone calls from people saying: ‘Oh we hear things are really bad in El Paso now, we hear there might be people on the streets with machine guns,’” said Cathy Dodson, director of planning and economic development for the City of El Paso. “It’s an unfair image of El Paso.”
Just last month, the city lost a popular Catholic youth diocese convention for 2012 after parents got timid about the closeness to the border and changed the location.
“We are losing conventions because of the anxiety and the fear,” said Bill Blaziek, general manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau. “There’s assumption that there may be spillover of violence, but that’s not been the case at all.”
Meanwhile, Dodson says some employers and local institutions are having trouble getting people to move to the area.
“UTEP (The University of Texas-El Paso) is trying to attract students, the medical school is trying to attract faculty and students, we have a new children’s hospital, they are trying to attract physicians,” she said.
Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security told FoxNewsLatino.com Thursday that to bring more people back to El Paso, industries must share the facts. She maintains that violence crossing the border is a misconception, and the Administration is working to keep it that way.
“The perception that the violence in Mexico—and that remains a serious problem—has spilled over in a serious way into cities like El Paso, wrong again,” she added. “I say, talk to people about the facts, and we will talk to people about the facts. Because the facts suggest otherwise.”
Leo Duran, longtime owner of L & J Café, a popular Mexican restaurant in El Paso, said the image problem is hurting small businesses like his. He’s been looking to expand, and he expects that with a new image and more people visiting the area, he will.
“I venture to say I can expand in size up to 15 to 20 percent,” he said.
Dodson said the task force is in the beginning stages of formulating their plan to re-vamp city’s image, starting with how each organization is recruiting people from outside the El Paso area.
“We’re doing a survey of what everyone’s doing. When the convention and visitors bureau wants to attract a convention, or how UTEP wants to attract students [looking at] what information is being put out there.”
Dodson said the task force hopes to have a plan complete in the next several months.
Patrick Manning is a junior reporter based in El Paso, Texas for foxnews.com.