The important role of entrepreneurship to the economic development of the U.S.-Mexico border region was the focus of a symposium held in early December at The University of Texas-Pan American.
The Border Economics, Development and Entrepreneurship Symposium (BEDES) brought together individuals from academia, federal agencies, and local economic development organizations as well as business leaders and students to explore innovative policies and approaches for cross-border economic development and to promote field-based research work on the border economy.
"It is basically a meeting of the minds of the community and scholars to identify issues important to border economic development and entrepreneurs," said Dr. Alberto Dávila, chair of the Department of Economics and Finance in UTPA's College of Business Administration, who helped organize the gathering.
BEDES was held in collaboration with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas-El Paso Branch, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, the world's largest foundation devoted to entrepreneurship; and the Network of Border Economics/Red de la Economía Fronteriza, a resource center located in El Paso for individuals and institutions involved in economic research on topics related to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Davila said it was important to make people aware of the economic conditions such as low family income, lower educational attainment and high unemployment rates for the border region as compared to more interior areas of the country.
"If we do a good job of identifying the issues then we can do a better job of implementing policies to address those issues," he said.
Day one, devoted to research on border economics, featured scholars from institutions across the United States and Mexico presenting their research on topics such as immigration and labor economics, economic integration, finance and maquiladoras.
"Academic research informs policy so it is important," said Dr. Teofilo Ozuna, dean of UTPA's College of Business Administration. "Besides research, the University also seeks to fuel business creation."
During the second day of the symposium, local business and economic development leaders discussed the EB-5 and EB-6 national visa programs, both designed to provide a method of obtaining a green card for foreign nationals who invest money in the United States.
Domestic and international entrepreneurship trends and issues were also discussed by a panel that included the following: Robert W. Gilmer, vice president in charge, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, El Paso Branch; John Tyler, vice president and secretary, Marion Kauffman Foundation; Javier Palomarez (BBA, '86), president and CEO, United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Keith Patridge, president and CEO, McAllen Economic Development Corporation.
Gilmer said the El Paso branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas has been a citizen of the border since 1917, when it was created, and has a long history of research on cross-border trade and other issues important to the border. He said he appreciated the research presented at the symposium drawn from what he called the "very best minds" of academia.
Gilmer noted that the economic significance of the border region has grown greatly.
"Since NAFTA, this region has moved from the edge of the country to become an important piece of the North American economy," said Gilmer, who cited the stronger recovery from the recession by Texas-Mexico border compared to the rest of the country.
Tyler, who serves as general counsel at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, said their initiatives on entrepreneurship have grown to be global as co-founders of Global Entrepreneurship Week, but it concentrates on providing grant opportunities nationally.
"We do a lot of research on how entrepreneurs work and how various systems and processes affect entrepreneurs and how those systems, processes and policies need to change in order to facilitate and help entrepreneurs do their job better," he said.
He said the foundation wanted to gain more insight on what was happening in the Valley region in regard to entrepreneurship, education, immigration and cross-border communication.
"There is a convergence of things that are happening here that are unique," he said. "I am impressed with the quality of research going on about the area and the thinking about how to understand, appreciate and continue to develop that research so that it can take advantage of its unique position."
UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, who spoke at the symposium, said economic development and entrepreneurship is at the heart of what the Rio Grande Valley and the University should be doing to transform the region. He asked that attendees be transformative agents.
"We must get it right in the Valley and that is the charge I give to you. It is our responsibility as educators, as entrepreneurs, as business people or bankers - to transform the region and make a difference," he said. "It's about breaking the grips of poverty, it's about putting meals on tables, it's about putting clothes on children, it's about books, it's about education. You can do anything if you get the opportunity."