U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans learned first-hand how partnerships with The University of Texas-Pan American have helped grow businesses in the Rio Grande Valley during a roundtable discussion with business owners Friday, June 28.
The roundtable meeting - which was sponsored by the UTPA Minority Business Opportunity Committee (MBOC) - was part of a four-hour visit to the Valley and was held at the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone.
Participants included David Sampson, U.S. Economic Development Administration assistant secretary; Ronald Langston, Minority Business Development Agency national director; UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez; Roland S. Arriola, UTPA vice president for External Affairs; Johnny Cisneros, South Texas MBOC director; and about 25 business owners.
"This border, over time, is going to disappear," said Evans. "It's going to be all one region. It's the future of the American economy. I like that MBOC is focused on international trade, and I applaud all of your efforts. Keep up the good work."
MBOC is part of the UTPA Office of Center Operations and Community Service (CoSERVE) and supported by a $175,000 grant from the Department of Commerce. It collaborates with 24 other University centers to provide assistance to minority-owned businesses in 13 South Texas counties.
Since 1999, MBOC-assisted clients have earned more than $10 million in government contracts and international sales.
During the meeting, the pending Free Trade Area of the Americas pact was emphasized. Designed to unite the economies of the Western Hemisphere into a single free trade agreement larger than NAFTA, an overall agreement is expected to be ready by 2005.
"We already are the only U.S. repository of information and data for INEGI (Instituto Nacional de Estadistica, Geographia e Informatica), which in Mexico is comparable to our U.S. Census and geological survey offices," Arriola said. "And, we are working to expand that to other Latin American countries so that we will be ready to accommodate the Free Trade of the Americas."
Nevárez said in addition to providing a quality higher education, the community service arm of the institution serves a vital role.
"One of the University's goals, through MBOC, is to promote development and growth in South Texas," Nevárez said. "We appreciate the Department of Commerce's efforts and assistance, and we look forward to continuing to work with you."
Since 1986, the public service/business development arm of UTPA has helped create 15,000 jobs and generated more than $100 million in direct capital investment by helping to start new businesses and supporting and helping to grow existing businesses, said Arriola.
"With 25 centers, we have made a tremendous impact on the whole region," Arriola said. "And, we have done it with a lot of support from the Department of Commerce and the Economic Development Administration."
All of the business owners present shared their success stories, including Billy Canales of Rio Motor Company in Rio Grande City.
"I'm very thankful to have MBOC around to depend on and be able to use when I need them," Canales said. "They have really helped me get where I am today."
In addition, Rudy Reed of the MBOC Youth Entrepreneurship Program shared his experience at the Market Opportunities and Networking for Entrepreneurial Youth (MONEY) Conference. MONEY allows high school students to prepare their own business plan and present it to peers serving as potential clients.
"This project enables them to bring back so much to their fellow students," said Rene Huddleston, Reed's teacher. "It's a real-world situation that can be both intimidating and exciting, and the experience they gain is immeasurable."
As U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary, Evans oversees a Cabinet agency of 40,000 workers and a $5 billion budget focused on promoting and advocating for American business, both at home and abroad. His Department also gathers economic and demographic data, issues patents and trademarks, helps set industrial standards, forecasts the weather, researches the oceans, and oversees telecommunications policy.
"We always want to support policies that allow people to pursue the 'American Dream,' " Evans said. "This is inspiring for me, and I applaud what all of you are doing."