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WESLACO, RGV – Jorge D. Ayala, director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s southwest region, has announced a $1.4 million grant for the Economic Development Corporation of Weslaco’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization.

The center will be jointly administered by EDCW and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

Ayala made the announcement at the offices of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council on Wednesday. He was at the council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the LRGVDC’s new Center for International Economic Development Opportunities.

Providing details about the Center for Innovation and Commercialization, Ayala said: “The facility is to provide incubator space for startup businesses, a network to allow them to have access to partnerships, suppliers, potential investment sources. And, obviously, the partnership with UTRGV has additional significance to us because UTRGV is also funded through us as a university center.”

Ayala pointed out that his five-state district provides funding to ten universities to do economic development. UT-Rio Grande Valley is one of those.

“They had been housed in Brownsville. So, this is going to move them here to Weslaco, right in the center, right in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley. The amount of energy and synergy and collaboration that can happen between a university center and the economic development district is going to be phenomenal,” Ayala predicted.

Ayala grew up near Corpus Christi and for this reason, he said, he has “a special place in his heart for South Texas.” He said the creation of LRGVDC’s Center for International Economic Development Opportunities and Weslaco/UTRGV’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization, along with other developments, will “take South Texas to a new level.”

“We are very happy to partner with you, to work with you. It gives me a lot of joy to be here,” Ayala said.

Weslaco Mayor David Suarez spoke briefly at the event. He thanked EDA, Congressman Filemon Vela, who was also present, and other federal elected officials for their help in securing the grant. “This center will be an economic generator for the entire region,” Suarez predicted.

Alberto Dávila, associate dean of graduate studies and research at the newly-named Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship at UTRGV, was also present for the announcement.

Mixed-Use Incubator

EDCW President Richard Talbert told the Rio Grande Guardian that his group is providing a matching grant for the $3 million Center for Innovation and Commercialization is $3 million. Talbert said the center is slated to open in August, 2017.

“We think it’ll be a great opportunity for all the entrepreneurial spirit that exists down here–not just for Weslaco, but for the whole area,” Talbert said.

“The establishment of a key relationship between the City, the EDC and UTRGV is a very proud moment for us. We think it’ll be a long term benefit for everybody and we look forward to nothing but success.”

EDCW is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the creation of jobs through recruitment of new industry and helping existing companies relocate and/or expand. Its objective is job creation and adding wealth to the city of Weslaco.

Talbert said the EDCW serves as a catalyst in increasing economic wealth and growth in Weslaco by fostering a positive business environment; assisting and facilitating investment in business interests in Weslaco; and adding value to Weslaco’s tax base.

Talbert said the new 16,225-square-foot facility will serve as a mixed-use incubator and allow UTRGV students and faculty to experience entrepreneurship as well as business development. He said the CIC will also provide programs for innovation, as well as help start-up businesses and new businesses.

“The prime purpose is to create a center for innovation and commercialization, to help the new entrepreneurs and new prospects that will be going forward in the 21st century,” Talbert said. “We just think it’s a very positive deal all the way around.”

The CIC will be just across the street from LRGVDC’s new Center for International Economic Development Opportunities. When asked if it’s possible for EDCW and LRGVDC to work together to boost international trade, Talbert said his organization will help existing businesses try to get established in the area.

“Having our center right down the street from the LRGVDC center gives us great opportunities for cooperation and expansion of the whole area. It will benefit us all,” Talbert said.

“Anytime you have the chance to get the excitement and the current 21st Century knowledge from UTRGV students who are aware, who are moving, who know where we’re going in the future and [having that] combined can only be a positive.”

Incoming LRGVDC executive director Ron Garza said he has already had a “positive meeting” with EDCW and UTRGV leaders about future collaboration. “We can become a cluster for innovation and economic development opportunities,” Garza told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Golden Corridor

Also at the LRGVDC event, EDA regional director Ayala announced a grant of $509,810 to construct water and sewer improvements to serve a project site for a new auto dealership in San Juan.

“I have just heard from the mayor that a bank is going to build there also,” Ayala said. “Other investments are going to happen because of the infrastructure that is going to be built there. It is estimated that 78 new jobs will be created and a private investment initially of $5 million will come in.”

San Juan Mayor San Juanita Sanchez thanked Ayala and the EDA for its investment.

“In smaller communities, as ours is, which is what we see in our Valley, we are always looking for that opportunity and those resources that help us make our communities great. This opportunity that has come to us for economic development and growth is very well received,” Sanchez said.

“We are looking forward to all of you coming to our golden corridor. When you are getting your luxury vehicle, you know you have to come to San Juan. We are generating jobs for our area and opportunities for private investment. It helps the entire region, not just us.”

Among the luxury car dealerships in San Juan are Acura, Audi, Jaguar, Land Rover and Mercedes-Benz.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows Weslaco Mayor David Suarez at the podium and EDA regional director Jorge D. Ayala to his immediate right at a Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council event on Wednesday, July 27. The photo gallery shows an artist’s rendition of what the Center for Innovation and Commercialization will look like, and an image of Ayala being interviewed by reporters outside the Center for International Economic Development Opportunities in Weslaco. Reporter Steve Taylor contributed to this story.