Statewide conference focuses on economic development in rural Texas

Posted at 12:47 PM, Jun 30, 2017
and last updated 2018-07-24 21:30:53-04

An annual statewide conference focused on economic development in rural Texas drew nearly 350 attendees to Waco this week.

The Texas Rural Challenge, which lasted two days, was hosted by the University of Texas at San Antonio and the Office of the Governor. It aims to give business owners tools to grow their businesses and connect them with financial resources. Those include from the government and the private sector.

"Connecting with each other, I think that's the biggest value and connecting the dots, not only with communities doing something in terms of a best practice, but connecting with financial resources that could help them bridge the gaps that they are experiencing," Director of the Rural Business Program at UTSA Gilbert Gonzalez said.

He said some of the sessions allow them to address some of the challenges small communities are facing, including educational attainment, broadband connectivity and healthcare access.

"We want for them to walk away being empowered through those sessions. I think that is the biggest thing, applying what they learn to their small communities and addressing those challenges," UTSA Director of the Rural Business Program Gilbert Gonzalez said.

Elizabeth Davis, an entrepreneur from McAllen who manufactures pecan products low in sugar, gluten free and vegan, was  a panelist at the conference. She credits her success of her business in part to the help of the Small Business Development Center. The organization helps small business owners like Davis to put together business plans and find funding sources.

"I'm from Mexico. I was new to developing a business here in USA," Davis said. "You bring the business idea and they make it possible."

This is the second year the Nuts and Cow owner has attended the conference, which helped her network with other business owners.

"You can find all the resources you can use to grow your business and make networking with people who are in the business," Davis said. "It gave me a different perspective. It opened my eyes to how much I can do and how much support we can get from the state."

Last year, Davis who also owns a commercial rental kitchen business called Mi Cocina participated in the Small Business Development Center fast-pitch competition called Texas Strong.

The contest gives cash award prizes to a few SBC's client finalists who have developed innovative products or services that could benefit rural communities.

Brent Jameson who owns HR Onboarding Solutions from San Angelo won third place this year and received $1,000.

His business gives companies who use paper forms to streamline the process to hire their employees through a web based onboarding system.

"I would be exciting win for our our company that the systems and our services that we provide to Texas company and more importantly Texas schools here is validated and that we are doing a good thing," Jameson said.

He added he would use the funds to invest in training, hiring additional employees and enhancing his facilities.

In addition, undergraduate and graduate students competed in a fast-pitch business plan competition called Texas Student Texas Challenge.

This is the 8th year the conference has been held.

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