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Havidán Rodríguez, Ph.D. has a modern vision for South Texas based much like 15th century English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon so famously advised: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” So not surprisingly, Rodríguez has answered the clarion call from the University of Texas System leadership for him to create another great opportunity, not just for his already illustrious professional career, but to make history by helping propel The University of Texas-Pan American into a bold, prosperous future never before seen. In late June, he agreed to serve as Interim President of The University of Texas-Pan American for the 2014-2015 academic year, which begins this fall. Among the milestones that will be reached in those 12 months, it will be the last time the Edinburg campus will carry the beloved and prestigious “Pan American” name. Rodríguez also will become the final name in the honor roll of distinguished leaders who have served as president of the Valley’s premier institution of higher education since H.C. Baker held that position from 1927 to 1933 of what was then Edinburg College. But the soon-to-be former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at UT-Pan American, Rodríguez – who also serves on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors – realizes his dramatic ascension at the university goes far beyond his professional life. “I am humbled and grateful. It is an incredible honor,” reflects Rodríguez. “There is really only a handful of people who get the opportunity to create a new university. So being here is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity. It is exciting and it is revolutionary because what we are looking at is a transformational experience for the entire Rio Grande Valley. You don’t get a second chance like this.” See story later in this posting.

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Dr. Guy Bailey, President of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, on Tuesday, July 29, was welcomed by Dr. Shirley A. Reed, President of South Texas College, and administrators at the STC Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen. During the visit, Bailey spoke with current STC Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) students and an alumna currently doing research with Yale University. They are prime examples of the quality education and bright futures South Texas College provides for students pursuing careers in the medical field. It was the first time Dr. Bailey visited the Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen. “It was a great visit,” commented Reed, presenting Bailey a welcome gift to the Valley. “I believe he was impressed with the quality of our facilities and students. We wanted to host this meeting at the Nursing and Allied Health Campus specifically because of the need to have a strong relationship with the medical school and to show Dr. Bailey the state-of-the-art technology we have. Like us, he wants South Texas College to be a major pipeline to UTRGV and subsequently medical school.” According to recently approved admissions criteria, students with associate’s degrees will have automatic admission into UT-RGV. “South Texas College students are already battle-tested, tried and true,” said Bailey. “Those with associate’s degrees will have automatic admission into UT-RGV. I understand the role of community colleges and look forward to working with STC in the future.” See story later in this posting.

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Another major retail and entertainment complex, complete with a hotel, is in the planning stages for Edinburg, a project that could bring in as much as $300 million a year into the city’s economy, Agustín “Gus” García, the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, featured second from left, has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. García delivered that news and provided other insights into the strength and future of Edinburg and its economy during the Public Affairs Luncheon, sponsored by The Bert Ogden Auto Group and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday, July 24. García said the EEDC has been working with Burns Brothers, LTD, a local development firm which in 2008 created the 726-acre La Sienna Master Planned Community in north Edinburg, to help bring about the adjoining planned retail/hotel conglomerate to be known as Resaca Market. The planned Resaca Market and La Sienna Master Planned Community are located by the U.S. Expressway 281/169C six-lane thoroughfare’s intersection with Monte Cristo Road. “They are changing the shopping industry with Resaca Market,” García said. “We are currently working with Burns Brothers, LTD to develop that project, which would feature about 500,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, hotel, shopping, entertainment, movie theaters, and so on. What a wonderful opportunity for shopping this will be, which would bring many more Mexican consumers and American dollars to that area, and into our city.” Featured, from left: City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr.; Agustín “Gus” García, the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Elva Jackson-Garza, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development, Edwards Abstract and Title Company; and Mayor Pro Tem Elías Longoria, Jr. See story later in this posting.

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As the Rio Grande Valley, with more than 1.4 million residents, continues to become an even larger major metropolitan region, the ongoing drought and political circumstances, such as the current dispute over the region’s share with Mexico of water from the Rio Grande River, are unacceptable risks, said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, featured at the podium. Texas also continues to suffer, with large sections of our state experiencing exceptional or extreme drought – prolonged, dry conditions that put a strain on water supplies for all uses. “Surface and groundwater storage, conservation, and treating reclaimed/recycled water are some of the water supply options that offer hope to our situation,” he explained. “Today, water desalination, a growing and improving technology that converts brackish (salty) groundwater and seawater into fresh water suitable for drinking and irrigation, is receiving statewide attention.” Canales serves on the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination – comprised of House and Senate members – which is taking a close look at what Texas is doing to develop new reservoirs of drinking water. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, are also members of this House/Senate legislative panel. The Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination held three public hearings in June to hear from all Texans – at the Texas Capitol on June 16, in Corpus Christi on June 23, and in Wichita Falls on June 30. Featured during a 2013 presentation by Canales before Edinburg school district employees are, from left: Carmen González, Member, Edinburg school board; Jaime Solis, Secretary, Edinburg school board; Dr. Martín Castillo, Vice-President, Edinburg school board; Juan “Sonny” Palacios, President, Edinburg school board; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent, Edinburg school district; and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. See story later in this posting.

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The newest project at Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District was marked official by the groundbreaking of Robert Vela High School’s performing arts center. On May 22, ECISD, ERO Architects of McAllen and SpawGlass representatives took part in the ceremony, as well as local officials. Located at 801 E. Canton Rd., the 19,709-square-foot facility will boast a 361-seat theatre, classroom space, dressing rooms and design shop. According to ERO Architects Project Manager Ismael Adame, the project is estimated to cost $7 million and is expected to be complete by January 2015. “We are pleased to continue serving the Edinburg school district by bringing our fourth performing arts center here to the community. This new facility is state-of-the-art and will enhance student achievement and give them a learning environment comparable to what you would see at universities,” said Adame. The theatre features modern technology including theatrical lighting, an intuitive intercommunication system, powerful rigging and effects speakers located around the theatre to provide ambient noise for dramatic performances. Combined, the innovative systems are similar to those used in a professional theatre, and will transform the students’ performances into a fully-immersive 21st century learning experience. The Robert Vela High School Performing Arts Center is preceded by the Ciro L. Trevino Performing Arts Center at Edinburg High School, the Pat McNallen Performing Arts Center at Edinburg North High School and the Alberto Garza, Jr. Performing Arts Center at Johnny Economedes High School. The previous centers were simultaneously designed by ERO and constructed between October 2009 and November 2010 through Infrastructure Facility Allotment funding from the State of Texas. The district was eligible for funding because each performing arts center was also multiple learning environments for students and teachers. Featured, from left: Mario Salinas, Assistant Superintendent for Support Services, ECISD; Jaime Solis, Secretary, Edinburg school board; Carmen González, Member, Edinburg school board; Eva Torres, Principal, Robert Vela High School; Dr. René Gutiérrez, Superintendent, ECISD; Dominga Vela, widow of Robert Vela and Director of C&I, ECISD; Juan “Sonny” Palacios, President, Edinburg school board; and David Torres, Member, Edinburg school board.

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On Wednesday, May 28, the 25th year of Leadership Edinburg, a program of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, was commemorated with the graduation of 12 participants during a ceremony held at the Echo Hotel and Conference Center. Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza presented the keynote address to the graduates, expressing the importance of leadership and staying active in local community affairs. Class XXV completed several events, including a two-day leadership retreat and sessions that focused on education, health care, history, media, economics and government. This year the class is giving back to the Chamber of Commerce by completing a tile fundraiser to raise money for the Southern Pacific Depot Restoration Project. This community service project will consist of the restoration and beautification of the exterior of the Southern Pacific Depot, where commemorative tiles will be installed in front of the depot. A personalized message may be inscribed to make a lasting impression for residents, business owners and visitors can enjoy for a lifetime. Leadership Edinburg strives to encourage a better Edinburg through strong leadership skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life. For more information on Leadership Edinburg please call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974 or visit online at http://www.edinburg.com. Featured are the Leadership Edinburg Class XXV graduates. Standing, from left: Serafín Castro (Magic Valley Electric Cooperative); Joe Voje (University of Texas-Pan American); Mario Lizcano (Doctor’s Hospital at Renaissance); Ramiro Rodríguez (Edinburg Fire Department), Rogelio Chanes (Teach For America); Augie Lozano (Bert Ogden Rio Grande Valley); Mario García (South Texas Business Education and Technology Academy); and Frank Arévalo (Elsa State Bank and Trust Co.). Seated, from left: Barbara Reynolds (Echo Hotel and Conference Center); Stephanie Ozuna (University of Texas- Pan American); Karen Pittman (IBC Bank); and Adrián Rendón (Boys and Girls Club of Edinburg Rio Grande Valley).

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The March of Dimes and its Signature Chef Committee invite area residents to the 5th Annual Signature Chefs Auction to be held on Tuesday, October 28, at the Kalos Event Center in Mission. Top local chefs prepare their signature dishes to raise awareness and resources to help March of Dimes prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality. “March of Dimes paves the way for premature babies to develop in a way that will allow them to have a healthy childhood and we are excited to be doing our part to make an impact in our community through this event,” said Perla Tamez, 2014 Signature Chefs Auction Chair. The 2014 Signature Chef Committee are: Standing, from left: Melisa Tejada; David Aguirre; and Yirla González Nolan. Seated, from left: Sarah Hammond; Giselle Mascarenhas-Villarreal; Perla Tamez; and Elizabeth Aguirre. Committee members Larry Delgado and Pepe Cabeza de Vaca are not pictured. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently received four honors, including two First Place showings, at the recent Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives (TCCE) Annual Excellence Awards held in College Station. The local chamber of commerce earned First Place in Marketing Campaign for the annual Texas Cook’Em: High Steaks in Edinburg; First Place in Brochures; Second Place in Directory/Magazine for its Edinburg Community Guide; and Second Place in Maps. The overall competition had more than 225 entries from which the best were judged by panels of experts in the specific field around the state,” said Ray Hernández, TCCE Vice-Chairman of Communications and Chair of the 2014 Media Awards. Local chambers from Texas convened on Monday, June 23, for the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives Annual Awards. Featured, from left: Martín Rivas, Director of Membership, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Letty González, President, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Imelda Rodriguez, Director of Tourism, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; and Ronnie Larralde, Director of Marketing/Special Events, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. See story later in this posting.

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Jaclyn Treviño, Public Affairs Multimedia Coordinator for Hidalgo County, featured center, on Tuesday, July 29, was recognized by the county commissioners court for receiving the Award of Excellence from the Texas Association of Municipal Information Officers. Her statewide honor was bestowed upon her for a video she wrote, directed, shot, and produced for Precinct 2 called Working for You. Her video was made to inform the public of what Hidalgo County Precinct 2 is doing for the residents of the region and was shown at Town Hall meetings. “Congratulations are in order for our extraordinary Jackie Treviño,” said Julia Benítez Sullivan, Public Affairs Director for Hidalgo County. “It’s always good when Hidalgo County receives statewide recognition.” Treviño thanked Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor “Tito” Palacios and his staff, Raúl Silguero, Erika Zamora and Carlos Jasso. “They were very helpful in providing me with all of the information and tools I needed to complete the project,” said Treviño. “Their collaboration was instrumental in making this video a success.” Working for You received second place honors. The City of Arlington took first place and the City of Plano placed third. Hidalgo County competed against municipalities with populations of more than 200,000. There were more than 300 entries submitted and Treviño’s video was selected from 80 finalists. Featured, from left: Julia Benítez Sullivan, Public Affairs Director for Hidalgo County; Jaclyn Treviño, Public Affairs Multimedia Coordinator for Hidalgo County; and Yolanda Chapa, Chief Administrator for Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García.

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As part of the continued efforts of the State of Texas to combat human trafficking, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, featured left, hosted the Joint Interim Committee To Study Human Trafficking for a public hearing on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 10 a.m. at the Nellie Schunior Central Administration Building, 201 W. Expressway 83, in La Joya. Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, also is a member of that legislative panel. The committee heard testimony on ways to further combat human trafficking along the Texas border and region, and discussed services available to victims. “Human trafficking has been a very serious issue in Texas for decades,” said Longoria, who represents House District 35. “We have seen this issue increase throughout the years, especially here in the South Texas border, where we have experienced an overwhelming number of immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States within the last three years. The thousands of men, women, and children who make the journey to cross through our border are subject to, and in many cases have become victims of human trafficking.” Featured, from left: Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston; Milda Mora, Chief Committee Clerk; Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, and Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, See story later in this posting.

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Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, August 4, announced that the state is offering $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to bring SpaceX’s commercial rocket launch facility to Cameron County. Contingent upon final approval of local agreements and receipt of additional required permits, this facility will create 300 jobs and pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy. “Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said. “In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.” Featured in this image is a successful static fire in March in preparation for a mission to the International Space Station. The mission, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, took place in mid-April, with the Falcon 9 rocket sending the Dragon spacecraft on SpaceX’s third commercial re-supply mission and fourth visit to the space station. See story later in this posting.

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Louis Dartez, an alumnus of The University of Texas at Brownsville, on Monday, August 4, faced a room crowded with television cameras, reporters and civic officials at a press conference held at the offices of the Brownsville Economic Development Council. Representing physics students, Dartez had been asked to comment on the day’s big announcement that Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has selected Boca Chica Beach as a launch site for its Falcon 9 rocket. “You all have changed my life,” said Dartez, citing the many individuals and entities that have worked on obtaining this project for more than three years. “The decision by SpaceX to select our area benefits the students of today and tomorrow.” SpaceX ended months of speculation that the rocket company would choose Cameron County and build the world’s first vertical rocket launch site at Boca Chica Beach to complement its existing launch sites at Vandenberg, California, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made the official announcement through a news release from Gov. Rick Perry’s office. “This is a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the state of Texas,” said Brownsville Mayor Tony Martínez. “This would never have succeeded but for the immense support of the people of Brownsville, all of its surrounding neighbors and the state. We will ensure that SpaceX has everything they need in order to be successful in the Greater Brownsville Borderplex.”

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents, meeting in Austin on Thursday, July 10, approved a proposal to ask state lawmakers to authorize $42.5 million in tuition revenue bonds to help pay for construction of a $50 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building at the Edinburg campus of UT-Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg Mayor Richard García, featured left, has announced. Dr. Guy Bailey, the President of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, is shown here with the mayor during a legislative briefing on Tuesday, June 17, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. The $50 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building would be built on the campus quad – its open-air courtyard – west of the Edinburg campus’ main library. “This project (Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building in Edinburg) would create an additional 124,304 GSF (gross square feet) with 80,798 assignable square feet of much needed space. The spaces will include a large lecture auditorium with a 250-seat capacity, several 150-seat lecture halls, 60-seat classrooms, and faculty offices,” noted a UT System synopsis of the project. “The project will also include an outdoor pavilion to be used as a gathering area and study space to relieve pressure on more expensive indoor space and also to support academic events.” Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, said the EEDC and the Edinburg City Council would continue to be champions for UT-RGV and its UT medical school, not only before the UT System Board of Regents, but also at the state legislative levels. “Edinburg’s top leadership, featuring the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC Board of Directors, has a long and distinguished history of proven support and effectiveness for higher education, not only in our community, but Valleywide,” said Gus García. “We know the legislative system in Austin, we benefit from an outstanding state legislative delegation, and we have friends and allies in key places in the UT System. We will be partners in the continuing transformation of UT-RGV into a university of the first-class.” See lead story later in this posting.

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Plan approved by UT System regents to ask Legislature to authorize $42.5 million in tuition revenue bonds for $50 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building at Edinburg campus of UT-Rio Grande Valley

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The University of Texas System Board of Regents, meeting in Austin on Thursday, July 10, approved a proposal to ask state lawmakers to authorize $42.5 million in tuition revenue bonds to help pay for construction of a $50 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building at the Edinburg campus of UT-Rio Grande Valley, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The $50 million complex in Edinburg is part of a package of proposed major renovations or new facilities at nine UT System campuses, totaling more than $1.5 billion, that also includes UT-Arlington ($310 million), (UT-Austin $205 million), the Brownsville campus of UT-RGV ($155.7 million), UT-Dallas ($194 million), UT-El Paso ($235 million) UT-Permian Basin ($68.4 million) UT-San Antonio ($157.5 million), and UT-Tyler ($76 million).

Most of the money for the UT System’s statewide academic institution projects would come from tuition revenue bonds, which is money generated from tuition charges levied against students or universities. As more students are enrolled, more money from tuition is generated that is used to repay the debt from tuition revenue bonds.

The Texas Legislature would have to authorize the issuance of tuition revenue bonds in the 2015 regular session, which will be held from mid-January through the end of May.

Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, said the EEDC and the Edinburg City Council would continue to be champions for UT-RGV and its UT medical school, not only before the UT System Board of Regents, but also at the state legislative levels.

“Edinburg’s top leadership, featuring the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC Board of Directors, has a long and distinguished history of proven support and effectiveness for higher education, not only in our community, but Valleywide,” said García. “We know the legislative system in Austin, we benefit from an outstanding state legislative delegation, and we have friends and allies in key places in the UT System. We will be partners in the continuing transformation of UT-RGV into a university of the first-class.”

• New building to be located by campus library

The proposed facility in Edinburg would help prepare more engineering students while also addressing space requirements for other academic disciplines as needed, according to a synopsis of the project provided by the UT System.

The $50 million Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building would be built on the campus quad – its open-air courtyard – west of the Edinburg campus’ main library.

“This project (Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building in Edinburg) would create an additional 124,304 GSF (gross square feet) with 80,798 assignable square feet of much needed space. The spaces will include a large lecture auditorium with a 250-seat capacity, several 150-seat lecture halls, 60-seat classrooms, and faculty offices,” noted a UT System synopsis of the project. “The project will also include an outdoor pavilion to be used as a gathering area and study space to relieve pressure on more expensive indoor space and also to support academic events.”

If the tuition revenue bond funding for the Interdisciplinary Engineering and Academic Studies Building is approved by the Texas Legislature next spring, UT-RGV would provide the $7.5 million balance to reach the projected $50 million cost of the proposed 124,304 GSF (gross square feet) complex.

Once the funding plan clears the Legislature, facility programming would begin in October 2015, with design development approval scheduled for August 2016, leading to occupancy by August 2018.

• Canales: Major UT projects in Edinburg already underway

This latest major construction proposal for UT-Pan American – to be renamed UT-Rio Grande Valley next year – comes as a result of legislation approved by state lawmakers in 2013.

“For UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, which are being merged into the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, these proposals represent the next phase of academic excellence and economic development as a result of the landmark legislation approved in 2013 that also will bringing the Valley a full-fledged UT medical school,” said Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes UTPA and a major component of the medical school. “I will work diligently with my fellow Valley and state lawmakers to secure legislative funding for these vital projects.”

Canales was a House sponsor of Senate Bill 24, authored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, whose primary sponsor was Rep. René Oliveria, D-Brownsville. SB 24 is resulting in the merger of UTPA and UT-Brownsville into The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, and to the establishment of a UT medical school for the Valley.

Canales noted this latest project is in addition to several major facilities already underway at the Edinburg campus.

“Last year, the UT System authorized funding for the construction of a $70 million Science Building Annex at UT-Pan American and $54 million for a UT medical school academic building next to the Edinburg campus,” Canales said. “This is in addition to the $42.6 million, 1,000-seat Academic and Performing Arts Center at UTPA, also already funded, which is well on its way to being completed.”

Hinojosa emphasized the importance of South Texans remaining united to bring about these and future major advances for UT-RGV and its medical school.

“UT-RGV was only possible because of our legislative delegation, UT system leaders, medical community, business leaders, public officials, parents and students who worked together to transform a dream into a reality,” the South Texas senator said. “By embracing a regional mindset, we have been able to come together to invest in education and the people of South Texas.

As the Valley moves forward with the same collaborative efforts, “we need to continue as a united community welcoming a vision that is broad and long-term to reap the tremendous returns that a new top-tier university and medical school will bring to the Rio Grande Valley,” Hinojosa added.

In addition to Hinojosa, Oliveira, and Canales, other key lawmakers involved with the passage of Senate Bill 24 include Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, Rep. Robert “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, were among the joint authors of SB 24.

Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, the Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, also was a joint author of SB 24, while Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, was a joint sponsor of that measure.

As a result of SB 24, UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville are in the process of being merged to become The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

The combined assets of UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville, along with the three UT Regional Academic Health Centers (RAHC) in Edinburg, Harlingen, and Brownsville, will make up UT-Rio Grande Valley.

The RAHCs will become part of a full-fledged UT-RGV medical school, with major components in Edinburg and Harlingen.

• UT RGV to serve as model for UT System

Dr. Guy Bailey, the recently-hired president of UT-RGV, was encouraged by regents to look for ways to use high-technology to increase the efficiency of the classroom settings, noting that UT-RGV could serve as a model for other UT System campuses.

Responding to suggestions that space needed for a large lecture hall, as proposed for the new facility, might be better used for more, but smaller classrooms, Bailey said he and his staff would work with the architects of the facility to address that goal.

“The fact that you are teaching a large lecture doesn’t mean that class is limited to that particular space,” said Bailey. “By using technology, we can both offer our class in a large lecture hall and in a small classroom. Through things like video streaming, you can offer that.”

In general, video streaming is a term that refers to providing video, in real time, through the Internet to viewers, such as students in a classroom.

“Most students who come to a traditional institution want face-to-face instruction,” Bailey added. “We know we are going to be offering instruction in a variety of different mechanisms, so we anticipate offering classes in classrooms, online, some of those video-streamed as they are being taught.”

The Brownsville campus of UT-RGV had the following projects approved for inclusion in the UT System statewide campus construction plan:

• $50,600,000
Multipurpose Academic Center
UT-RGV, Brownsville Campus

The project will add an academic facility with a total of 177,527, GSF. The facility will include 132,527 GSF for much needed classrooms for science, biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, and physics and an additional 45,000 GSF will provide space for general purpose classrooms.

294,955 GSF is currently being leased from Texas Southmost College and other private property owners. The lifespan of the leases is between two and six years; therefore, UTRGV Brownsville campus has an urgent need to begin to construct new buildings for classroom space, science labs and student support services to meet current enrollment needs.

• $50,400,000
Fine Arts and Classrooms Building
UT-RGV, Brownsville Campus

This project will construct a Fine Arts and Classroom building with a total of 155,174 GSF to provide music education teaching space and general purpose classrooms. This space is needed to replace space that is currently being leased from Texas Southmost College. It will provide some additional space to accommodate student enrollment. The facility will include 30,000 GSF of flexible learning spaces to serve not only music education but other disciplines as well.

• $54,700,000
Student Success and Administrative Building
UT-RGV, Brownsville Campus

This project will construct 181,715 GSF for a Student Success and Administrative Building. A total of 154,282 GSF is needed to replace space that is currently being leased from Texas Southmost College and provide additional space to accommodate student enrollment in the areas of student support and services.

Included will be 27,433 GSF for learning enrichment spaces that would include collaborative spaces equipped with technology to interact with students located in any of the locations of UT-RGV.

A videotape of the public portion of the UT System Board of Regents may be viewed on the Internet at http://www.utsystem.edu/board-of-regents/meetings

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Steven Edward Cruz, II. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Resaca Market, a 500,000-square-foot retail, entertainment and hotel complex, in planning stages, announces Edinburg EDC

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Another major retail and entertainment complex, complete with a hotel, is in the planning stages for Edinburg, a project that could bring in as much as $300 million a year into the city’s economy, Agustín “Gus” García, the Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

García delivered that news and provided other insights into the strength and future of Edinburg and its economy during the Public Affairs Luncheon, sponsored by The Bert Ogden Auto Group and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, on Thursday, July 24.

His remarks, illustrated by a Power Point presentation, were made before about 225 community and business leaders who attended the function, held in one of the main reception rooms at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance.

García said the EEDC has been working with Burns Brothers, LTD, a local development firm which in 2008 created the 726-acre La Sienna Master Planned Community in north Edinburg, to help bring about the adjoining planned retail/hotel conglomerate to be known as Resaca Market.

García said Resaca Market would take advantage not only of the growing residential subdivisions within the La Sienna Master Planned Community, but especially with the tens of thousands of prospective customers who would travel by it every day on U.S. Expressway 281, which on May 30, 2013 was designated Interstate 69-Central.

The planned Resaca Market and La Sienna Master Planned Community are located by the U.S. Expressway 281/169C six-lane thoroughfare’s intersection with Monte Cristo Road.

Resaca Market and La Sienna Master Planned Community are about 3.5 miles north of Edinburg’s downtown, and approximately six miles north of Edinburg’s city-owned, planned $54 million, 8,500-seat arena to be constructed along U.S. 281/I69C in south Edinburg.

“They are changing the shopping industry with Resaca Market,” García said. “We are currently working with Burns Brothers, LTD to develop that project, which would feature about 500,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, hotel, shopping, entertainment, movie theaters, and so on. What a wonderful opportunity for shopping this will be, which would bring many more Mexican consumers and American dollars to that area, and into our city.”

In general, a master planned community is an economically-upscale residential center, with homes built by several different builders, pools, trails, and other recreational facilities, designed to provide all the major amenities to its residents. There are often adjacent commercial districts with shopping and entertainment venues, as would be the case with the Resaca Market.

García said Resaca Market has the potential to generate as much as $5 million a year in local sales tax revenue for key public services – additional money that can be used by the Edinburg City Council and EEDC for a wide range of its duties, from public safety, infrastructure improvements and youth programs to economic development and job-creation efforts.

The EEDC executive director said Resaca Market would have similar benefits as another of the Valley’s more well-known retail venues, the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, which is the 587,000-square-foot shopping center located in Mercedes by U.S. Expressway 83.

To provide Edinburg’s leadership with an analysis of the potential financial impact of Resaca Market, the EEDC reviewed the positive economic impact of the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, which took advantage of being located right off U.S. Expressway 281.

“In the area of Mercedes that now includes the Rio Grande Valley Premium Outlets, before that shopping center was built, that region of their city generated about $1.2 million to $1.5 million a year in local sales taxes,” García reported. “After the outlet was built, that figure, in as few as five years, increased to $7.4 million in local sales taxes generated annually. That equates to roughly $300 million in sales a year. If all goes well for Resaca Market, that could bring the extra $5 million a year for local city services in Edinburg.”

“Location, location, location” – that famous selling point for successful real estate transactions – is one of the major themes Edinburg has been using in encouraging new commercial and residential developments and expansions in the city, including along the frontage roads of the 18-mile stretch of U.S. Expressway 281/I69C that spans Edinburg’s southern and northern city limits.

While Resaca Market would serve as the northern anchor of retail action for Edinburg which will draw traffic from U.S. Expressway 281/169C, that same interstate also is benefiting another developing retail corridor that features The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley – and other vital businesses.

García said that The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg, which currently has 450,000 square feet of retail space in use, is planning its next significant addition, which will provide more restaurants in high demand by local residents.

This latest expansion involving those new restaurants is part of a vision by city leaders and First Hartford Realty Corporation, the developers of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, which was opened in 2008.

Currently, The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley is generating about $100 million annually in retail activity from existing stores, but that figure will grow significantly when that complex eventually reaches its goal of becoming a 1.1 million square-foot retail giant.

Near the Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley, major auto dealerships and large shopping venues, such as the city’s third Wal-Mart Supercenter, are open for business.

Other existing and planned retail venues, such as the city’s third H-E-B supermarket, are drawn by the high-traffic counts of U.S. Expressway 281/I69C in south Edinburg. That region will also soon boast the $54 million, 8,500-seat arena, to be owned by the city, that will serve as home to the NBA-affiliated Rio Grande Valley Vipers professional basketball team, as well as host major concerts and other large gatherings.

The EEDC executive director’s overview also included summaries of more than one dozen other ongoing and planned major projects, ranging from new hotels coming to the city to more than $200 million in new construction now underway, approved, or proposed for the The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg and the UT-RGV school of medicine in Edinburg.

“Ladies and gentlemen, that is a lot of activity going on in Edinburg right now,” García concluded his presentation, then predicted, “We’re helping lead the way in education, medicine, and government. In partnership with all cities in the Valley, I know that South Texas is going to become one of the epicenters of economic development for Texas.”

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, and Steven Edward Cruz, II. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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EEDC making its influence felt with board member Havidán Rodríguez, Ph.D., chosen as Interim President for UT-Pan American

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Havidán Rodríguez, Ph.D. has a modern vision for South Texas based much like 15th century English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon so famously advised: “A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.”

So not surprisingly, Rodríguez has answered the clarion call from the University of Texas System leadership for him to create another great opportunity, not just for his already illustrious professional career, but to make history by helping launch The University of Texas-Pan American into a bold, prosperous future never before seen.

In late June, he agreed to serve as Interim President of The University of Texas-Pan American for the upcoming 2014-2015 academic year, which begins this fall.

Among the milestones that will be reached in those 12 months, it will be the last time the Edinburg campus will carry the beloved and prestigious “Pan American” name.

Rodríguez also will become the final name in the honor roll of distinguished leaders who have served as president of the Valley’s premier institution of higher education since H.C. Baker held that position from 1927 to 1933 of what was then Edinburg College.

But the soon-to-be former Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs at UT-Pan American, Rodríguez – who also serves on the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors – realizes his dramatic ascension at the university goes far beyond his professional life.

“I am humbled and grateful. It is an incredible honor,” reflects Rodríguez. “There is really only a handful of people who get the opportunity to create a new university. So being here is not only a challenge, it is an opportunity. It is exciting and it is revolutionary because what we are looking at is a transformational experience for the entire Rio Grande Valley. You don’t get a second chance like this.”

In doing so, Rodríguez will serve a vital mission in protecting and promoting the well-being of UT-Pan American as it evolves into a new, larger higher education system.

Effective August 2015, under legislation successfully passed in 2013 by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville, along with the rest of the Valley’s state legislative delegation, all the resources of the UT System in deep South Texas will have been combined to become The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley.

In late 2012 and during the spring of 2013, the EEDC and the Edinburg City Council lobbied the Texas Legislature for the landmark creation of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, which is also bringing a full-fledged UT school of medicine to the Valley, including a major component in Edinburg.

For almost 20 years, the EEDC and the Edinburg City Council have effectively supported UT-Pan American before the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents.

“Edinburg is deservedly known as a center of education in South Texas, and UT-Pan American always has been a powerful force for good in so many ways, so the EEDC and the Edinburg City Council have long served as champions for this incredible institution of higher education,” said Agustín “Gus” García, EEDC’s Executive Director.

Mayor Richard García and EEDC Executive Director Gus” García are not related.

The EEDC, whose five-member governing board includes Edinburg Mayor Richard García as president, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. All EEDC board members, with the exception of the mayor, who automatically serves as president, are appointed by the city council.

• EEDC Executive Director: Rodríguez’ presidency “a fitting tribute”

“For Dr. Rodríguez, who has done so much for UT-Pan American, both in his capacity with the university and as a valued leader of the EEDC, it is a fitting tribute to him that he be chosen to lead UT-Pan American into its glorious future,” EEDC Executive Director Gus” García declared.

Chosen on Wednesday, June 25, by UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., to serve as the final president of UT-Pan American, Rodríguez will be a top advisor to Dr. Guy Bailey, the incoming president of The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, while tending to his own awesome responsibilities of leading UT-Pan American.

Rodríguez says he will have at least three major duties for the upcoming 2014-2015 academic year at the Edinburg campus.

“First, we still have another year of maintaining UT-Pan American as an excellent institution of higher education, so my role is to make sure we continue to promote excellence in teaching, research/scholarship, and service,” he said.

He is also tasked with helping ensure UT-Pan American’s successful transition to UT-Rio Grande Valley.

“In that context, I will be working with (UT-RGV) President Bailey, with the leadership at UT-Brownsville, UT-Pan American and the UT System, to ensure that we open the doors and are very successful on day one of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley,” said Rodríguez.

Building, sustaining, and strengthening the relationships between UT-Pan American, UT- Brownsville, and the UT Regional Academic Health Centers in Edinburg, Harlingen and Brownsville comprise what he sees as his third major duty as Interim President.

“Making sure we continue to have strong partnerships throughout this year; collaborations and communication, are key,” he added. “Because at the end of the day, we will become one family.”

• Ongoing UTPA construction projects shaping future campus

In his three-and-a-half years as UTPA’s Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, as a member of the EEDC Board of Directors, and during the upcoming year as Interim President of UT-Pan American, Rodríguez has been, and will continue to be, a valuable leader in the physical transformation of the Edinburg campus, said Mayor Richard García.

“Right now, most noticeable is the $42.6 million, 1,000-seat Academic and Performing Arts Center being built and scheduled to open in early 2015, as well as other key expansions or additions to existing buildings that people see as they walk or drive by campus,” the Edinburg mayor noted.

These and other very impressive developments at UT-Pan American always will bear witness to the work of Havidán Rodríguez.”

In addition, the UT System Board of Regents already has approved, and provided the funding for, a $70 million Science Building, and for the construction of a $54 million medical school classroom complex at the Edinburg campus of UT-Rio Grande Valley, Mayor García added.

Other construction projects will continue to reshape UT-Pan American in the coming 12 months, Rodríguez said, while indicating that all of these breakthroughs have taken place under the leadership of UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen and Martin (Marty) Baylor, Vice President for Business Affairs.

“We have a significant renovation project to enhance, strengthen and expand the health sciences, so we’ll have Occupational Therapy and Social Work moving to the building which was previously the university book store,” he said. “In addition, we will have a major renovation project, that will start this fall, to expand the facilities for our nationally-recognized Physician Assistant Program, as well as our excellent nursing program.”

The university bookstore is now located on the first floor of the UTPA Library.

“We have another building that is being constructed, and hopefully, people will start moving in by August that will house what we call the University College, which is designed to ensure the successful transition of students from high school and community colleges to a four-year institution and to promote student success,” Rodríguez continued.

That new building will be a hub for student engagement and experiential learning (learning from experience) so prospective students can be exposed to undergraduate research, service learning, the honors program, and study abroad – “these are experiences that will help our students succeed at the university and get excellent jobs or continue to graduate school,” he said.

As for the most visible project on campus right now, Rodríguez said UTPA officials “expect the Academic and Performing Arts Center will be fully online, hopefully sometime in February, so this is a major contribution that we will be making to the Rio Grande Valley.”

Sports will also make its presence felt at the Edinburg campus, with the upcoming revival of NCAA Division One men’s and women’s soccer. Women’s soccer team begins play this fall, while the men’s soccer team returns after an 18-year hiatus in 2015.

“There is construction of a soccer field ongoing right now; we are also adding soccer to our athletic teams here at UT-Pan American, and to UT-Rio Grande Valley as well, so a soccer complex is a project we hope will be completed fairly soon,” Rodríguez said.

• Rodríguez’ legacy includes humility, loyalty

Regarding all of this dramatic growth, Rodríguez demonstrates admirable humility and loyalty, despite his remarkable legacy in higher education and his upcoming lofty title as Interim President of UT-Pan American.

Without fail, he credits his friend and soon-to-be former boss, UTPA President Nelsen, for helping make possible this next phase of impressive growth of university facilities.

“It is important to say that under the leadership of President Nelsen, we have been able to significantly expand the construction projects and the renovations now going on at UT-Pan American,” Rodríguez said.

Nelsen, who supported the creation of UT-Rio Grande Valley, on June 6 announced his plan to retire as UTPA president effective September 2. He has been offered the position of Special Advisor to Pedro Reyes, Ph.D., Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the University of Texas System. Nelsen’s roles would include fundraising for the UT System and for UT-RGV.

“In his four years as President, Dr. Nelsen has accomplished a great deal, and the UT System and UTPA owe him a debt of gratitude for moving a number of tough initiatives forward,” Reyes stated in correspondence announcing Nelsen’s decision. “His major achievements include providing leadership that resulted in UTPA being elevated from a ‘comprehensive masters’ to a ‘doctoral serving’ institution, and being named as The College of the Year (in 2013) by the National Hispanic Institute.”

With both Nelsen and Rodríguez continuing to excel in their respective professions, their efforts have and will continue to bring advancements to all of South Texas.

“UT-Pan American still has another year to work on a variety of initiatives,” Rodríguez said. “As we also move to create a new university of the 21st century, there will be significant interaction with the UT System, the UT System Board of Regents, and the Texas Legislature,” he said.

• Rodríguez: “There are a lot of eyes on South Texas right now.”

He emphasized the value of higher education for deep South Texas.

“UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville have always been important economic engines for the region. When UT-Rio Grande Valley is created, it will be even more so,” Rodríguez predicted. “We will continue to create well-paying jobs. With the addition of the school of medicine in 2016, UT-RGV will have a significant and positive impact on the social and economic development in the region.”

He beams with pride, not for himself, but for South Texas, which through the coming emergence of UT-RGV and its UT medical school, has generated impressive attention and awe from beyond the four-county Rio Grande Valley.

“This is a truly innovative project that will have significant ramifications, not only for the Rio Grande Valley and Texas, but across the United States,” Rodríguez explained. “Our goal is to become a model institution – not only a model Hispanic-serving institution, but a model institution of higher education across the country.”

With great confidence, he embraces the challenges that will come as the final president of The University of Texas-Pan American as it becomes Texas’ first new university of the 21st century.

“There are a lot of eyes on South Texas right now,” Rodríguez welcomed the scrutiny and support tied into one of the most ambitious legislative higher education efforts ever undertaken in Texas.

“People are looking at us,” he said of this landmark opportunity facing him and South Texas. “We are looking forward to continue to work and to make sure that we are successful.”

• Biographical Professional Highlights for Havidán Rodríguez, Ph.D.

Prior to being selected as Interim President for The University of Texas-Pan American, Dr. Havidán Rodríguez had been Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at UTPA.

He is also a tenured professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

Before arriving at UTPA, Dr. Rodríguez served as the Deputy Provost, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs, and Professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at the University of Delaware.

He was also a core faculty member and former director of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), the oldest and one of the leading social science disaster research centers in the world. He obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Rodríguez held a faculty position and several administrative positions at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez (UPRM) for more than a decade; and he served as Director of the Minority Affairs Program for the American Sociological Association (1995-1998).

He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Michigan’s Population Fellow’s Program (Summers, 2001-2003); was selected as the Frey Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (Spring, 2002); received a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Outstanding Achievement Award (2004); and was recognized as one of the Hispanics of the Year in the State of Delaware for which he received the Professional Achievement Award (2007).

Dr. Rodríguez served on a number of committees for the National Academy of Sciences and on review panels for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Ford Foundation, and he was the Chair of the Latina/o Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Rodríguez has received funding from NSF, the Ford Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health, FEMA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the UPRM Sea Grant Program, among others, for a number of research projects focusing on the social science aspects of disasters and for projects aimed at providing hands-on research training and mentoring to undergraduate and graduate students.

He was also the principal investigator for the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program: Training the Next Generation of Disaster Researchers, funded by NSF. Currently, he serves as the principal investigator for an NSF ADVANCE IT grant aimed at increasing the representation, participation, and leadership of women faculty in STEM fields.

Dr. Rodríguez has led and participated in a number of field research projects, including trips to Honduras, following Hurricane Mitch; India and Sri Lanka, following the Indian Ocean Tsunami; and the Gulf Coast, following Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Rodríguez has a significant number of publications in the area of disasters, as well as Latinos/as in the United States. He is the co-editor (with Quarantelli and Dynes) of the Handbook of Disaster Research (2006) and the co-editor (with Sáenz and Menjívar) of Latinas/os in the United States: Changing the Face of América (2008).

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Steven Edward Cruz, II, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

••••••

UT System Board of Regents approve establishment of doctor of medicine degree at UT-Rio Grande Valley

In another historic step in the march to higher education opportunities for the Rio Grande Valley, The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, July 10, unanimously approved the establishment of a doctor of medicine degree at UT-Rio Grande Valley.

UT-RGV, which will combine the assets, talents and resources of UT-Pan American and UT- Brownsville, is set to open its doors in August 2015.

The following year, in July 2016, the university’s medical school will accept the charter class of 50 first-year medical students, subject to preliminary accreditation by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), the national accrediting body for institutions that offer a medical degree.

“This is a continuation of an historic milestone for the entire Rio Grande Valley, one of the most medically-underserved regions in the nation,” said UT System Chancellor Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D. “The new medical degree program at UT-RGV will educate physicians to be skilled clinicians, biomedical scientists and innovators and help to transform the health care system regionally and across Texas.”

The UT-RGV medical school will adopt an innovative curriculum that is sequenced vertically and horizontally to integrate basic and clinical sciences.

“The South Texas region is different and unique geographically, culturally and medically, from the rest of Texas,” said Francisco Fernández, M.D., the medical school’s founding dean. “Our medical students will have the opportunity to be part of community-based projects aimed at addressing specific health needs, including incidences of obesity and diabetes that are significantly higher than the rest of the state and nation.”

Regents already have approved $54 million from the Permanent University Fund for the construction of a medical school building in Edinburg. Medical education programs will take place at several locations throughout Hidalgo and Cameron counties, including at the new facility, at the existing Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen and at other existing and planned facilities.

Already operational in Harlingen is the UT Rio Grande Valley Smart Hospital, a 15,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art simulation teaching hospital built with $10 million allocated by the Board of Regents.

The fully-functional medical school “will be a big step towards providing greater access to health care throughout the Rio Grande Valley, transforming medical education and health care for all of South Texas,” said Dr. Guy Bailey, UT-RGV’s founding president. “The entire community’s enthusiasm and support for the School of Medicine is very impressive. The dream that so many have had for so long is finally becoming a reality.”

••••••

SpaceX to build first commercial launch complex for orbital missions in Cameron County, bring 300 high-tech jobs with it

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, August 4, announced that the state is offering $2.3 million from the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) to bring SpaceX’s commercial rocket launch facility to Cameron County.

Contingent upon final approval of local agreements and receipt of additional required permits, this facility will create 300 jobs and pump $85 million in capital investment into the local economy.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Perry said. “In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”

The State of Texas and SpaceX first discussed this potential project in the spring of 2011 during a TexasOne mission to California. The governor has since met with SpaceX founder Elon Musk and provided letters in support of SpaceX’s efforts to get FAA clearance for the site. Governor’s Office staff has worked closely with local officials in South Texas throughout the process, and also testified before the FAA in support of bringing the project to Texas.

In addition to the TEF investment, the state is also offering $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund to the Cameron County Spaceport Development Corp. The fund is used to support the development of infrastructure necessary for establishing a spaceport.

SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft, and is the world’s fastest-growing provider of launch services. It is the only private company ever to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit, which it first accomplished in December 2010. SpaceX is also the first private company to attach a spacecraft to the International Space Station, exchange cargo payloads, and return safely to Earth – a technically challenging feat previously only accomplished by government space programs.

SpaceX operates a Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas which has grown to over 250 employees since starting operations in 2003. The Brownsville facility will launch commercial satellites.

“SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. We appreciate the support of Gov. Perry and numerous other federal, state and local officials who have partnered with us to make this vision a reality,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said. “In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”

Texas has a long history with both public and private spaceflight.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center served as a hub for America’s human space exploration program from the early Gemini, Apollo and Skylab projects to today’s Space Shuttle and International Space Station Programs. Texas was also the launch site for the Conestoga 1 in 1982, one of the first privately funded rockets to reach space.

“What a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the State of Texas. It’s the culmination of a dream and a vision that began more than three years ago,” Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said. “We will ensure that SpaceX has everything they need in order to be successful in the Greater Brownsville Borderplex. The team effort would have never succeeded but for the immense support of the people of Brownsville, all of its surrounding neighbors and the state – to all of you ‘mil gracias’ and watch us soar.”

The Legislature created the TEF in 2003 and reauthorized funding in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 to help ensure the growth of Texas businesses and create more jobs throughout the state.

TEF projects must be approved by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. The fund has since become one of the state’s most competitive tools to recruit and bolster business.

To date, the TEF has invested more than $565 million and closed the deal on projects generating nearly 76,000 jobs and more than $24 billion in capital investment in the state.

••••••

UT-RGV students to benefit from SpaceX launch site at Boca Chica Beach

By LETTY FERNÁNDEZ

Louis Dartez, an alumnus of The University of Texas at Brownsville, on Monday, August 4, faced a room crowded with television cameras, reporters and civic officials at a press conference held at the offices of the Brownsville Economic Development Council.

Representing physics students, Dartez had been asked to comment on the day’s big announcement that Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, has selected Boca Chica Beach as a launch site for its Falcon 9 rocket.

“You all have changed my life,” said Dartez, citing the many individuals and entities that have worked on obtaining this project for more than three years. “The decision by SpaceX to select our area benefits the students of today and tomorrow.”

Dartez, a 2009 graduate of the UTB Mathematics and Science Academy, in May earned his M.S. in physics at UT-B (to be renamed The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley in August 2014). Set to begin working on his Ph.D. in physics in three weeks with the onset of the fall semester, Dartez said physics students would have opportunities “like never before.”

“My thanks to Dr. Rick Jenet and Dr. Richard Price,” he said. “Without you and the other faculty we wouldn’t be here.”

SpaceX ended months of speculation that the rocket company would choose Cameron County and build the world’s first vertical rocket launch site at Boca Chica Beach to complement its existing launch sites at Vandenberg, California, and Cape Canaveral, Florida. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk made the official announcement through a news release from Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

“This is a historical moment for the greater Brownsville region and the state of Texas,” said Brownsville Mayor Tony Martínez. “This would never have succeeded but for the immense support of the people of Brownsville, all of its surrounding neighbors and the state. We will ensure that SpaceX has everything they need in order to be successful in the Greater Brownsville Borderplex.”

The mayor read a statement from Dr. Juliet V. García, UT Brownsville President, who was unable to attend the media event: “This is clear evidence of what can happen when a community and its leadership focus on achieving a goal together. The university is proud to have played a pivotal role in helping recruit SpaceX to our region.”

Teamwork and perseverance were the themes cited by all the speakers at the media event – along with excitement and relief.

Dr. Guy Bailey, President of UT-Rio Grande Valley that will open its doors in August 2015, said this accomplishment made him think of the Johnson Space Center that was established years ago and the many achievements that came from the work of its talented teams.

“Congratulations to all of you,” Bailey said. “This is a tremendous effort, and years from now you will step back, and you will think, ‘Wow we did this, and we really achieved something remarkable.’ The people who are going to benefit are the students – the students in high schools, the students at UT Brownsville who will be UT-RGV students. SpaceX will be the real beneficiary of students like Louis. This is going to be a great partnership. I can’t tell you how happy I am to be a part of it.”

Keith Uhles, Board Chair of the Brownsville Economic Development Council, said he remembered being in the same room, three and a half years ago, when this project was first addressed.

“It all sounded like a dream,” Uhles said. “This type of project could never have happened without teamwork – from the city of Brownsville, the governor and his staff, and the BEDC staff, working tirelessly all hours of the day and night. This is just the beginning for Brownsville.”

Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos echoed Uhles’ gratitude to Perry.

“It is amazing what we can do when we all pull together,” Cascos said. “I thank Gov. Rick Perry for all his support – this is an important initiative for the entire state – Texas will benefit greatly from the SpaceX project.”

••••••

Former Hidalgo County Sheriff Treviño sentenced to five years in federal prison

By ANGELA DODGE

Former Hidalgo County Sheriff Guadalupe Treviño, aka Lupe Treviño, on Thursday, July 17, was sentenced to federal prison following his conviction of conspiracy to commit money laundering, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Treviño, 64, of McAllen, pleaded guilty in McAllen on Monday, April 14, 2014, in McAllen.

“No one is above the law,” said Magidson. “Those entrusted with protecting the public safety have a specific duty to guard against corruption. When they become crooked themselves, the interests of the people demand full accounting for their illegal activities.”

Calling this day a “sad” one for Hidalgo County, U.S. District Judge Micaela Álvarez of McAllen upwardly departed from the recommended guidelines and handed Treviño a 60-month term of imprisonment.

He was also ordered to pay a $60,000 fine and will serve a two-year-term of supervised release following completion of the prison sentence.

“The sentencing of the former Hidalgo County sheriff is the culmination of a long-term investigation into corruption and the violation of public trust,” said Special Agent in Charge Janice Ayala of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in San Antonio. “While the local community mourns this violation, they’re now able to put this chapter behind them.”

José A. Padilla, of Weslaco, a former deputy commander with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office who served under the leadership of Treviño pleaded guilty to receiving a bribe, in a separate, but related case.

Nine others, including drug trafficker Tomás Reyes González aka El Gallo, were convicted in relation to the underlying narcotics/money laundering conspiracy. They will all be sentenced on Thurday, September 18, by U.S District Judge Randy Crane of McAllen.

The investigation revealed that from 2007 to 2013, Reyes González headed a drug trafficking organization responsible for the distribution of thousands of kilograms of marijuana and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine. The narcotics were transported from the Rio Grande Valley to Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. Reyes González used the resulting drug proceeds to purchase properties.

Treviño admitted he received cash contributions for his election campaign through Padilla from Reyes González, acknowledging he accepted the money knowing it was from illegal activities.

At the time of his guilty plea, Padilla also admitted he received cash from Reyes González in exchange for providing information to him related to ongoing law enforcement activities.

Treviño admitted he accepted the monies directly and through others as donations to assist with his 2012 election campaign. Some of the monies received were subsequently deposited into bank accounts Treviño controlled and were comingled with other funds.

During and after the transactions, Treviño and others acted to disguise and conceal the nature, location, source, ownership and control of the currency by filing false Candidate/Officeholder Campaign Finance Reports and producing other documents.

María Patricia Medina, Treviño’s former chief of staff and campaign treasurer, pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, admitting she assisted Treviño in the concealment of the donations by falsifying election records. Medina was sentenced to 11 months in prison and a $2,000 fine in late July by Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of McAllen.

The overall investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations, Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation and Texas Department of Public Safety, Rangers Division. Assistant United States Attorneys James Sturgis and Aníbal Alaniz prosecuted the case.

••••••

Edinburg retail economy in May 2014 leads major Valley cities with almost 15 percent improvement over May 2013

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy in May 2014 led all major Valley cities in the rate of improvement over the same month last year, coming in with an almost 15 percent increase in local sales taxes generated compared with May 2013, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation (EEDC), has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

Edinburg’s most recent economic showing is almost quadruple the average for all Texas cities, which came in with a 4.4 percent monthly increase over May 2013, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Based on the amount of local sales taxes collected, which reflects the strength of an economy, Edinburg’s retail sector generated more than $1.5 million in local sales taxes in May 2014, compared with more than $1.3 million in May 2013.

For the first five months of 2014, Edinburg’s retail economy also posted a double-digit upswing over the same period last year, generating $11,062,277.87 in local sales taxes, compared with $9,811,553.22 for January through May 2013 – a rise of 12.74 percent.

The ongoing improvements in Edinburg’s retail economy, along with other positive economic indicators, were the subject of a major presentation on Thursday, July 24, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the Public Affairs Luncheon, hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, which featured Agustín “Gus” García, Executive Director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

“We appear to be at the cusp of a tremendous economic development opportunity. The past, and present economic indicators are important to understanding the future,” said EEDC Executive Director Gus García. “We discussed what this all means from the EEDC’s perspective and what the City, the EEDC and the community can do to take advantage of its strengths, achieve its goals and reduce it’s weaknesses. We are seeking the community’s input, what they see in the future, and what they feel the community is missing or needs.”

His presentation, sponsored by The Bert Ogden Dealer Group and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Committee, was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, located at 118 Paseo Del Prado in Edinburg.

The local sales tax figure represents sales made in May, sent to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in June, and returned to the respective local government entities in July.

The sales tax, formally known as the State Sales and Use Tax, is imposed on all retail sales, leases and rentals of most goods, as well as taxable services. Texas cities, counties, transit authorities and special purpose districts have the option of imposing an additional local sales tax for a combined total of state and local taxes of 8 1/4% (.0825).

The local sales tax is used in Edinburg to help pay for many city services, while the EEDC uses its one-half cent local sales tax to help generate economic development in the city.

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Edinburg’s retail economy in May 2014 generated $1,518,208.18 in local sales taxes, up 14.76 percent over May 2013, which reached $1,322,830.78.

Also for the second consecutive month, Pharr registered the second-best improvement among major Valley cities for May 2014, up 13.89 percent over the same month in 2013, with $1,239,026.47 in local sales taxes being generated.

Year-to-date, Pharr’s local sales tax revenue was 11.48 percent ahead of the pace during the same five months in 2013.

Although during the previous month, all of the Valley’s major cities reported significant monthly improvements over April 2013, the May 2014 figures were more modest – and in a couple of cases, down from May 2013.

McAllen – the traditional retail giant of the Valley – reported $4,736,694.81 in local sales taxes in May 2014, up 4.51 percent over May 2013. Year-to-date, McAllen’s local sales taxes were up 1.97 percent over the same five months in 2013.

Weslaco’s retail economy in May 2014 produced $852,092.42 in local sales taxes, an increase of 0.41 percent over the same month last year. Year-to-date, Weslaco reported a 0.52 percent increase over January through May 2013.

Brownsville generated $2,599,372.93 in local sales taxes in May 2014, up 3.32 percent over May 2013. Year-to-date, Brownsville’s retail economy had improved 4.21 percent over the same period in 2013.

Two of the Valley’s major economies – Mission and Harlingen – reported decreases in retail sales for May 2014 as compared to May 2013.

Mission’s posting of $1,092,731.51 in May 2014 represented a drop of 2.58 percent from its May 2013 monthly showing, while Harlingen produced $1,559,481.53 in local sales taxes in May 2014, a decrease of 5.70 percent over the same month last year.

Year-to-date, Mission’s retail economy was 9.51 percent better than during January through May 2013, while Harlingen’s retail economy was 2.34 percent better from January through May 2014 than during the same five months last year.

According to the state comptroller’s office, the Valley’s major cities reported the following local sales tax figures for April 2014:

• McAllen: $4,736,694.81, up 4.51 percent over May 2013 ($4,531,984.73);
• Brownsville: $2,599,372.93, up 3.32 percent over May 2013 ($2,515,698.79);
• Harlingen: $1,559,481.53, down 5.70 percent from May 2013 ($1,653,786.05);
• Edinburg: $ 1,518,208.18, up 14.76 percent over May 2013 ($1,322,830.78);
• Pharr: $1,239,026.47, up 13.89 percent over May 2013 ($1,087,853.29);
• Mission: $1,092,731.51, down 2.58 percent from May 2013 ($1,121,748.60); and
• Weslaco: $852,092.42, up 0.41 percent over May 2013 ($848,589.45).

All cities in Hidalgo County generated a combined total of $11,100,766.11 in local sales tax revenue in May 2014, compared with $10,649,780.16 during the same month in 2013, an improvement of 4.23 percent.

All cities in Cameron County generated a combined total of $5,081,677.93 in local sales tax revenue in May 2014, compared with $5,050,718.39 during the same month in 2013, an increase of 0.61 percent.

For details of the May 2014 local sales tax figures for all cities, counties, transit systems, and special purpose taxing districts, located the Monthly Sales Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports at the comptroller’s website, log on to:

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, and Felipe García, Steven Edward Cruz, II, and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to: http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Converting salt water into drinking water taking center stage for Valley’s future

By REP. TERRY CANALES
HOUSE DISTRICT 40

As the Rio Grande Valley, with more than 1.4 million residents, continues to become an even larger major metropolitan region, the ongoing drought and political circumstances, such as the current dispute over our region’s share with Mexico of water from the Rio Grande River, are unacceptable risks to our future.

Texas also continues to suffer, with large sections of our state experiencing exceptional or extreme drought – prolonged, dry conditions that put a strain on water supplies for all uses.

Surface and groundwater storage, conservation, and treating reclaimed/recycled water are some of the water supply options that offer hope to our situation.

Today, water desalination, a growing and improving technology that converts brackish (salty) groundwater and seawater into fresh water suitable for drinking and irrigation, is receiving statewide attention.

We in the deep South Texas are key players in developing plans to help expand the use of water desalination.

I serve on the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination – comprised of House and Senate members – which is taking a close look at what Texas is doing to develop new reservoirs of drinking water.

My Valley colleagues, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, are also members of this House/Senate legislative panel.

The Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination held three public hearings in June to hear from all Texans – at the Texas Capitol on June 16, in Corpus Christi on June 23, and in Wichita Falls on June 30.

Even though the legislative hearings are concluded, South Texans may still offer their viewpoints and explain the challenges and successes we face in protecting and expanding our sources of water here at home. We invite people to share their thoughts with us so we can incorporate them into the committee’s recommendations, which will become proposal state laws and policies.

Here at home, with the Gulf of Mexico, we literally have an inexhaustible source of potential drinking and irrigation water. But what would be involved, how much would it cost to make this a reality, and what state and federal financial resources are available for this technology?

An acre-foot of water, which is 326,700 gallons, supplies about 2.2 households per year.

The average cost to produce 1 acre-foot of desalinated water from brackish groundwater ranges from approximately $357 to $782.

The average cost to produce 1 acre-foot of desalinated water from seawater is projected to range from approximately $800 to about $1,400.

But those costs do not include pipelines, building the plants or other infrastructure costs.

Seawater desalination is not currently being used in Texas, but it is in Florida and California, and across the world from the Middle East to China. In order for seawater desalination to be a viable option in our state, further research is required, which is part of our committee’s duties.

The development and financing of desalination projects can help the Rio Grande Valley reduce its dependence on elements out of our control.

Conservation of existing water supplies is always wise and must continue.

But the population growth of the Valley and Texas are going to require creating new sources of water, such as with desalination, to help nourish the economy and quality-of-life which are now hallmarks of deep South Texas.

No individual, business, or government has a monopoly on wisdom.

Contact us with your ideas, your recommendations, your vision for this great issue of the day.

One thing is for sure:

In the Valley, when it comes to facing and conquering challenges, such as overcoming current and future droughts, we never bury our heads in the sand.

Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County. HD 4o includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr, San Carlos and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.

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State legislators visit Rio Grande Valley to study desalination efforts

A group of state legislators conducted a fact-finding tour of desalination facilities in Cameron County on Monday, July 28, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, has announced.

Lucio is one of three Valley lawmakers serving on the Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, also are members of this legislative group.

The Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination tasked with studying desalination efforts across the state, invited his colleagues to study such efforts in Lucio’s Senate district.

The lawmakers toured brackish desalination facilities of the Southmost Regional Water Authority in Brownsville on Monday, July 28, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, Co-Chairman of the committee, said the tour was voluntary for committee members.

“I could not be more excited to welcome my colleagues to Brownsville, where local leaders have developed incredible models for desalination which might be adopted statewide,” Lucio said. “In the midst of a historic drought, expanding desalination efforts must be at the top of Texas’ priorities for meeting growing water demands.”

In a letter dated May 19, 2014, Senator Lucio had invited Hunter and Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, the Senate Co-Chair, to conduct a public hearing of the committee in Brownsville.

“As we research the benefits of water desalination, I encourage our Joint Interim Committee to examine Brownsville’s efforts in utilizing both seawater and brackish water desalination. Brownsville has been proactive in trying to determine the viability and sustainability of seawater desalination,” Lucio wrote.

The Brownsville Public Utilities Board has operated a brackish water desalination plant since 2003.

The utility previously collaborated with the Texas Water Development Board and the Port of Brownsville on a saltwater desalination pilot project at the Brownsville ship channel. That pilot has since concluded.

The Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination was created pursuant to passage of House Concurrent Resolution 59, which was sponsored by Lucio and Hunter during the 83rd Legislative Session last year. Lucio was appointed to the committee in January.

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Speaker Straus appoints Rep. Muñoz to Joint Interim Committee to Study Education Policy for a Skilled Workforce

By RICHARD SÁNCHEZ

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus on Friday, June 20, appointed Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, to the Joint Interim Committee to Study Education Policy for a Skilled Workforce.

The committee’s authority and work is based on House Concurrent Resolution 82 passed during the 2013 Session of the Legislature.

The Joint Committee will examine and make recommendations on opportunities for career and technology education (CTE) to provide career exploration and curricula aligned with postsecondary programs and employer-validated skill requirements. Specifically, members will study how CTE programs can better align with those offered in Texas colleges and with the needs of Texas employers.

“As education is always a top priority, I am honored to be named to this joint committee to study and find ways to more closely align how we teach our students and the needs of the community and workforce, said Muñoz. “I look forward to working with the our local superintendents and the excellent staff and administrators at South Texas College on these issues, as they are among the state’s leaders in CTE programs.”

“I am very thankful to Speaker Straus for this and other appointments which have given me the opportunity to be in a position to improve the quality of life for my constituency and all Texans,” added Muñoz.

Muñoz also serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, where he is a member of the subcommittee with oversight of the Texas Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, was recently appointed to the Select Committee on Transportation Funding, the House Insurance Committee, and the House Local Calendar Committee.

In addition to Muñoz, who was the only Valley House lawmaker selected to the panel, committee members include: Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, who will serve as Co-Chair; Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth; Rep. Joe Farías, D-San Antonio; Rep. Marsha Farney, R-Georgetown; Rep. Kyle Kacal, R-College Station; and Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian

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Rep. Longoria hosts Joint Interim Committee to Study Human Trafficking during July 24 public hearing in La Joya

By MICHELLE VILLARREAL

As part of the continued efforts of the State of Texas to combat human trafficking, Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya, hosted the Joint Interim Committee To Study Human Trafficking for a public hearing on Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 10 a.m. at the Nellie Schunior Central Administration Building, 201 W. Expressway 83, in La Joya.

Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, also is a member of that legislative panel.

The committee heard testimony on ways to further combat human trafficking along the Texas border and region, and discussed services available to victims.

“Human trafficking has been a very serious issue in Texas for decades,” said Longoria, who represents House District 35. “We have seen this issue increase throughout the years, especially here in the South Texas border, where we have experienced an overwhelming number of immigrants crossing from Mexico into the United States within the last three years. The thousands of men, women, and children who make the journey to cross through our border are subject to, and in many cases have become victims of human trafficking.”

Testimony was open to the public.

Various local leaders, legislators, organizations, and law enforcement officials testified before the committee.

This was the first time the committee held a human trafficking hearing in the Rio Grande Valley.

“Human trafficking is a growing problem, not only along the border but world-wide, that subjects women and children into modern day slavery,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, whose Senate District 20 covers most of the Rio Grande Valley and Corpus Christi. “We need to provide our law-enforcement community with the necessary tools to crack down on human traffickers.”

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., whose Senate District 27 includes Cameron, Willacy, and part of Hidalgo County in the Rio Grande Valley, shared Hinojosa’s sentiments.

“I am grateful to the committee chairs and Rep. Longoria for extending an invitation to join them as they were briefed on important human trafficking concerns relevant to the Rio Grande Valley, especially in light of the recent influx of Central American migrants to the region,” Lucio said.

“The more than 50,000 souls who arrived at the border, young children in particular, were certainly vulnerable to mistreatment on their journey,” Lucio added. “It is imperative that our state agencies, medical professionals, and educators have the necessary systems in place to identify victims of trafficking.”

Last legislative session in 2013, through creation of this committee and through passage of several bills intended to curb the evil of human trafficking, lawmakers overwhelmingly endorsed a view that all trafficking victims deserve appropriate protections of law, Lucio added.

“At this hearing, we ensured our state is honoring that commitment in the face of an unprecedented crisis at our border,” the Brownsville Democrat noted.

The committee, established during the 2011 legislative session and renewed by the Legislature last year, is delegated the task of studying the problem of human trafficking. It is charged with continuing its previous work by studying ways to combat the crime of human trafficking and identifying services available to victims.

“This hearing allowed South Texas residents to play an important role in addressing the very serious crime of human trafficking,” said Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. “The work that Rep. Longoria, Rep. Muñoz, and his colleagues are doing now will provide valuable guidance when the full Legislature takes up this issue in next year’s legislative session.”

An estimated 17,500 foreign nationals are trafficked into the United States each year, and the number of U.S. citizens trafficked within the country is estimated to be even higher. Given its size and proximity to a major international border, Texas is often a focal point for human trafficking activity.

“I thank my colleague, Representative Longoria, for inviting us to his district. It has been my passion the past few sessions to adopt the harshest punishments against the pimps and the persons responsible for carrying out these modern day slavery acts against mankind,” said Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston. “We will continue the fight to combat this heinous crime and put an end to it, now more than ever.”

Thompson and Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, are Co-Chairs of the committee.

In addition to Thompson, Longoria and Muñoz, other House members on this panel are: Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi; Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball; Rep. Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas; Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso; Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound; Rep. James White, R-Woodville; Rep. Toni Rose, D-Dallas; Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin; Rep. Allen Fletcher, R-Cypress.

In addition to Huffman, other Senate members of this panel are: Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury; Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound; Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio; and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston.

“With the increase in unaccompanied minors crossing our southern border, I am deeply concerned about the potential that exists for these children to be exploited by the commercial sex trade industry,” said Huffman. “At our hearing in La Joya, we listened to testimony from experts and law enforcement officials to gain greater insight into this troubling situation.”

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UT-RGV president visits STC’s Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen

By MARTHA PEÑA

Dr. Guy Bailey, president of the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, on Tuesday, July 29, was welcomed by Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College, and administrators at the STC Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen.

During the visit, Bailey spoke with current STC Dual Enrollment Medical Science Academy (DEMSA) students and an alumna currently doing research with Yale University. They are prime examples of the quality education and bright futures South Texas College provides for students pursuing careers in the medical field.

DEMSA students Tania Vargas and Marco Cruz were both interested and eager to hear about UT-RGV and their possible future prospects with the medical school. As a student at McAllen High School, Vargas has plans to attend a medical school in Texas and pursue a degree in anesthesiology. Marco is a student at Sharyland High School, and his goals consist of obtaining a bachelor’s in biology and then pursuing a doctorate degree to eventually practice psychiatry in the Valley.

Even though both students are still enrolled in high school, they are scheduled to graduate in 2015 with an associate’s degree from South Texas College, making them optimal candidates to transition to the new university.

According to recently approved admissions criteria, students with associate’s degrees will have automatic admission into UT-RGV.

“The programs that are going to be very focused with the new university are the ones that prepare students who are strong in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM),” explained Reed. “Much of this work is going to be done in partnerships with our public schools. Students who want to go to medical school must work towards a strong associate’s degree in the sciences so they are well prepared to do the upper division work.”

Well-prepared students from STC are making great strides in their educational and professional careers.

Recent graduate Karina Cerda was also in attendance to share her success story with Bailey.

“I am South Texas College’s biggest cheerleader,” exclaimed Cerda. “I earned my Associate of Science in Biology and Chemistry and then continued at South Texas College to pursue a Bachelor of Applied Technology in Medical and Health Services Management. It’s because of STC that I am continuing my education and reaching my goals.”

Cerda is currently pursuing a Master in Public Health at Texas A&M University and is employed by Yale University’s School of Public Health, conducting research at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg.

It was the first time Dr. Bailey visited the Nursing and Allied Health Campus in McAllen.

“It was a great visit,” commented Reed. “I believe he was impressed with the quality of our facilities and students. We wanted to host this meeting at the Nursing and Allied Health Campus specifically because of the need to have a strong relationship with the medical school and to show Dr. Bailey the state-of-the-art technology we have. Like us, he wants South Texas College to be a major pipeline to UTRGV and subsequently medical school.”

“South Texas College students are already battle-tested, tried and true,” said Bailey. “Those with associate’s degrees will have automatic admission into UT-RGV. I understand the role of community colleges and look forward to working with STC in the future.”

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Edinburg Chamber of Commerce earns four awards, including two First Place showings, in statewide media marketing competion

By RONNIE LARRALDE

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce recently received four honors, including two First Place showings, at the recent Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives (TCCE) Annual Excellence Awards held in College Station.

The local chamber of commerce earned First Place in Marketing Campaign for the annual Texas Cook’Em: High Steaks in Edinburg), First Place in Brochures, Second Place in Directory/
Magazine for its Edinburg Community Guide; and Second Place in Maps.

The overall competition had more than 225 entries from which the best were judged by panels of experts in the specific field around the state,” said Ray Hernández, TCCE Vice-Chairman of Communications and Chair of the 2014 Media Awards.

Local chambers from Texas convened on Monday, June 23, for the Texas Chamber of Commerce Executives Annual Awards.

The awards honor organizations for exceptional efforts in marketing, communications and media
outreach.

Awards are judged in seven separate categories: social media marketing and communications, brochures, chamber maps, magazines or community guides, print/electronic news, websites and marketing campaigns.

“Rest assured the winners faced stiff competition from fellow chambers of commerce,” Hernández noted. “Their victories truly indicate the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is the best in 2014 in the Marketing Campaign and Brochures categories.”

“Our vision is to serve our members, the City of Edinburg and the region as an advocate and resource and lead the effort in advancing commerce and quality of life,” said Letty González, President of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “We are honored to have received these awards and will continue to work hard for Edinburg.”

TCCE is an organization of chamber executives from across the state, working together to improve the business climate in Texas, while developing ways to enhance the quality of life in the communities that they represent.

TCCE provides leadership for chamber employees through its many publications and resources. There are many networking opportunities including the annual conference held each summer, mini-conferences, and other meetings with the purpose of bringing executives together to exchange ideas and success stories.

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5th Annual Signature Chefs Auction to raise funds for March of Dimes slated for October 28

By MELISA TEJADA

The March of Dimes and its Signature Chef Committee invites area residents to the 5th Annual Signature Chefs Auction to be held on Tuesday, October 28, at the Kalos Event Center in Mission.

The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with cocktails, chef samplings and a silent auction. Guests will also have the opportunity to bid during the live auction that will also be taking place at this event.

The Signature Chefs Auction has become one of the premier culinary events in the Rio Grande Valley.

Top local chefs prepare their signature dishes to raise awareness and resources to help March of Dimes prevent birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

“March of Dimes paves the way for premature babies to develop in a way that will allow them to have a healthy childhood and we are excited to be doing our part to make an impact in our community through this event,”said Perla Tamez, Chair of the 2014 Signature Chefs Auction.

March of Dimes is the largest and most respected maternal-child health organization in the world. They help moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies. And if something goes wrong, they offer information and comfort to families.

More than four million babies are born in the United States each year, and the March of Dimes has helped many of them through 75 years of research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs.

The mission of March of Dimes is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality.

March of Dimes carries out its mission through research, advocacy, community services and education to save babies’ lives.

For more information on this event or to inquire on sponsorship opportunities contact Yirla González Nolan, March of Dimes Community Director at (956) 682-7114 or at Ygonzaleznolan@marchofdimes.com.

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Mexican pair pleads guilty to debit/credit card conspiracy in $35K McAllen shopping spree

By ANGELA DODGE

Mary Carmen Vaquera-García, 27, and Daniel Domínguez-Guardiola, 28, both of Mexico, have entered guilty pleas to conspiring to use debit/credit cards with the intent to defraud, announced U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson.

Vaquera and Domínguez admitted on Tuesday, July 8, that on Sunday, January 12, 2014, they went on a $35,000+ shopping spree in McAllen using unauthorized Lone Star National Bank Visa card accounts.

The pair intended to sell the fraudulently-purchased merchandise in Mexico for a profit.

Vaquera further admitted to wiring money overseas to obtain stolen account information for the cards and to hiring Domínguez to help her use the cards.

The magnetic strips on the fake cards had been encoded with stolen, real account information for other people’s accounts that the defendants were not authorized to use. The names on the front of the fake cards were associated with false male and female identities that the defendants were using. Therefore, a retailer simply checking the name on an ID against the front of the card might not have been able to detect the fraud.

Vaquera-García and Domínguez-Guardiola were arrested on Sunday, January 19, 2014, on several outstanding warrants as they attempted to re-enter the U.S. through the Anzaldúas Port of Entry. A total of 96 counterfeit cards were found hidden in Domínguez’ waistband.’

As part of their plea agreements, the defendants agreed to pay restitution and forfeiture in the amount of $35,422.21 and to forfeit several items that were seized from them on the day of their arrest, including hundreds of dollars in currency and gift cards.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa, who accepted the guilty pleas, has set sentencing for Wednesday, September 24, 2014. At that time, each defendant faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a possible $250,000 maximum fine. They will remain in custody pending that hearing.

This case was investigated by the Secret Service with the assistance of the McAllen Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Sully is prosecuting.

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