In 1960, Carlton Whitworth was named by the Laredo Morning Times as "Man of the Year". Nobody was surprised, and the reason was clear. Ramon Garces, the Laredo Morning Times city editor of the daily paper wrote:
Carlton C. Whitworth, strong in his belief that a city never stands still, three and a half years ago was the choice of Laredo leaders to break the industry status quo. Today, Whitworth has pushed a solid industry campaign onto the greatest, most aggressive height it has ever achieved at this border city.
Carlton came to Laredo as Commercial Manager at Central Power and Light Company in 1955. In 1957, he became the Industrial Chairman of the Laredo Chamber of Commerce. We did not realize it at the time, recalls an old-time chamber worker, "but from that moment, Laredo was never to be the same again."
After a few years of Carlton’s Chairmanship of the Chamber’s Industrial Committee, the Laredo Morning Times, noted:
Under Whitworth’s civic responsibility and leadership, a campaign for industry was taken off the talking stage and transformed into a grinding, rolling, mushrooming project which, if carried through, can result in a new era of progress for the entire Laredo area.
Ultimately, Carlton’s project was carried through, and it did result in a new era of progress for the Laredo area. During the early 1960's, Carlton had a lot of help. The serious drought of the 1950's, and Laredo’s reliance on Laredo Air Force Base led many local leaders to realize the need for a professional approach to diversifying Laredo’s economic base. People like Max Mandel, Tom Herring, J. W. Kraemer of the Texas-Mexican Railroad, J.J. Richter and Robert Trautmann, all of whom would later be listed among the founders of the Laredo Development Foundation, were joined by Harry Sames, John Snyder and Cecil Wade in the economic development campaign.
Carlton Whitworth was a trained, professional economic developer. He attended the Industrial Development Institute (I.D.I.) at the University of Oklahoma and was certified by the American Industrial Development Council. His thesis at I.D.I. was entitled: "The Economy of South Texas and It’s Potential For Future Development." Interestingly enough, at a time when total U.S.-Mexico trade through Laredo was less than $500 million, Carlton wrote that increasing trade flows would eventually become extremely important to Laredo. By the year 2002, the value of U.S.-Mexico trade through the Port of Laredo had reached nearly $80 billion - - an average of over $400 million in merchandise and capital goods go through Laredo each day.
Because of Mexico’s entry into General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1986, the growth of the maquiladora (twin-plant) program during the late 1980's and the passage of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)in 1993, Laredo’s location - - which earlier had been an obstacle because of its distance from U.S. markets - - had become a tremendous advantage in the cross border trade handling and distribution industry. In other words, Laredo had gone from the geographic bottom of the continental U.S. (located at mile marker #1) to the center or "hub" of the primary U.S.-Mexico trade route.
Carlton’s professionalism was also evident in the way he went about leading the Chamber’s Industrial Committee. He began by conducting a survey of Laredo’s assets and liabilities as seen by prospective industries. On the plus side, Laredo was found to have plentiful labor, good undeveloped natural resources for industry, picturesque atmosphere, good living conditions for management personnel, and a business climate friendly towards new industry.
On the negative side, Laredo was located poorly, U.S. marketwise. Its low average income precluded top civic facilities and programs. There were no industrial sites specifically earmarked for new or expanding industries.
Carlton’s Industrial Committee then set out to eliminate the negatives. The industrial site problem was resolved with an industrial tract established by Robert Trautmann, a member of Whitworth’s committee. Conveniently located beside a railway, the tract lured one industry, the new plant of Laredo Manufacturing Company which produced Youngland dresses. The Industrial Committee also helped the City get started on a street paving program and set up a City Parks and Recreation Board under H. David Hachar, Jr.
At Carlton’s urging, Laredo businesses put up $1,500 for an industrial survey under the direction of Lee S. Paine, supervisor of Industrial Economics Research for Texas A & M’s Engineering Experiment Station. Paine made a sweeping study and analysis of "facts about the facilities, people, economy and resources of Laredo and environs." The survey became the springboard for enlightened programs of community improvement. The time had come for the formation of the Laredo Development Foundation.
On November 17, 1966, the Laredo Development Foundation was incorporated by:
- Max Mandel - Laredo National Bank
- Honore Ligarde - International Bank of Commerce
- Byron Miller - Union National Bank
The founding board members were:
- Robert Benavides
- G. R. Peck
- Robert Freeman
- Robert Pratt
- Tom Herring
- J. J. Richter
- J. W. Kraemer
- Robert Trautmann
- J. C. Martin, Jr.
- W. L. Webber