To assist rural communities and stimulate economic development in South Texas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded The University of Texas-Pan American more than $261,000 in two grants: $241,070 for the South Texas Rural Cooperative Development Center and $20,000 as part of UTPA's designation as one of eight National Centers of Excellence.
The grants were officially presented during a news conference Friday, March 22 at the UTPA International Trade and Technology Building.
"USDA Rural Development is committed to helping rural America, and through my position as state director, I'm committed to helping rural Texas," said Bryan Daniel, USDA Rural Development state director.
"The area we are talking about here today is through cooperative development - working with cooperative and small businesses. These hubs - Edinburg, McAllen and Brownsville - are the hubs that hold it all together, and this is where the activities are going to come from."
The South Texas Rural Cooperative Development Center will provide technical and start-up assistance to rural cooperatives in South Texas.
The National Center of Excellence program consists of one-year cooperative partnerships between eight rural institutions of higher education and the USDA. Designed to promote economic development in underserved rural communities, it focuses on economic opportunity, sustainable community development, community-based partnerships and a strategic vision for change.
"There are eight of them in the United States, and we are happy to be one of them," said Bret L. Mann, executive director of the UTPA Office of Center Operations and Community Services (CoSERVE).
"The National Center of Excellence goes out to rural areas, especially empowerment zones, and provides strategic planning, develops leadership, and conducts training for local government, higher education and empowerment zone officials. The ultimate goal is to improve economic self-sufficiency of those rural areas."
Other speakers and guests included David Gonzalez, USDA Rural Development regional manager; Blanca Villalpando, representative for State Sen. Eddie Lucio; Norma Brewster, representative for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; and Anna Maria Garcia, representative for U.S. Senator Phil Gramm.
And, as part of the formal announcement, Daniel presented Arturo Ramirez, executive director for the Center for Economic Opportunities Inc. in Hidalgo County, a $200,000 rural business enterprise grant. Funds will go toward incubator facility expansion and a fund providing business loans to colonia entrepreneurs.
For information on the South Texas Rural Cooperative Development Center and the National Center of Excellence at UTPA, call CoSERVE at 956/381-3361.