Business rewards: Three recognized at UTRGV luncheon

BROWNSVILLE — Javier Palomarez, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and keynote speaker for Friday’s Business Leaders Lunch, cited some eye-opening statistics on the impact of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States.

The event, taking place at the Rancho Viejo Conference Center and attracting hundreds of regional civic and business leaders, was put on by the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship.

Noting that more than half the population growth in the United States is represented by Hispanics, the Rio Grande Valley native said the nation’s 4.2 million Hispanic businesses contribute $686 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Three times more Hispanics start businesses each year compared to other demographic groups, while two-thirds of all new jobs in the nation are generated by Hispanic-owned businesses, Palomarez said.

“Hispanic owned businesses have become a national treasure,” he told the crowd.

Since the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed 25 years ago, Mexico has become the United States’ third largest trading partner, ranking among the top three export markets for 31 U.S. states, he noted.

Three honorees were recognized at Friday’s lunch. JoAnn Gonzalez Gama, an Edinburg resident, co-founded IDEA Academy within the Donna Independent School District in 1998. The IDEA Academy Charter School started with 150 students and today educates more than 36,000 students on 61 campuses across the Valley, Austin and San Antonio.

Don Emigdio Manuel Garcia, a prominent Matamoros businessman and published author, was also honored. Garcia built a small business in the city’s Mercado Juarez into the Garcia Group, and he has served as president and council member of a number of banks in Matamoros and on the development board of UTRGV.

Also recognized was Nick Serafy Jr., president/CEO of Proficiency Testing Service, which specializes in quality-management testing programs for clinical laboratories and health care organizations to evaluate, monitor and improve the accuracy and reliability of diagnostic test results.