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Category Archives: Economic Development

President’s Message – May 2016

HRBCC-42Recently, WalletHub, a leading personal finance outlet, listed Brownsville as the 7th Best City for Hispanic Entrepreneurs. According to WalletHub, their analysts checked the Hispanic business climate in 150 of the largest U.S. cities to help aspiring entrepreneurs and established businesses find the most fertile ground for their enterprises. Brownsville was the only city in the Valley to make their list. Among the list of criteria used to rank cities was Hispanic-business-friendliness, startups per capita, number of small business loans awarded, housing affordability, and Hispanic population growth. The trajectory for the success of small businesses in our city continues to increase. The message is loud and clear, “Brownsville continues to be a great place for small businesses!”

The Brownsville Chamber of Commerce is leading the effort to improve the climate for small business startups, as well as established businesses. Brownsville is an emerging entrepreneurial community, and last week’s announcement of the arrival of SATA USA, an Italian machining operation, is yet another sign that new industries are coming to Brownsville. Aside from increasing the opportunities for business owners to increase their knowledge and expertise through our Chamber University Program, which offers more than 40 professional development workshops, we also partner with numerous small business service providers to offer business owners the resources they need to expand their businesses and reach more customers. Some of those resources include access to experts to help create business and marketing plans, as well as access to lending institutions and organizations such as LiftFund that can offer startup capital, credit report reviewing and planning, and business and strategic planning. These organizations want to lend money to businesses in Brownsville.

Looking to the future, the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce is also working to inspire future business leaders through the creation of the Brownsville Young Chamber. The Brownsville Young Chamber (BYC) program is a great opportunity to develop Brownsville’s future entrepreneurs. By providing opportunities for BYC members to engage with business and community leaders and providing relevant professional development, we aim to cultivate a strong and innovative pro-business culture that sustains Brownsville’s future economic development. Over 50 interested young professionals attended the first social gathering, and before the end of the event, 19 had officially joined BYC. More continue to join each week.

Lastly, we know that there are many challenges to opening and sustaining a successful business, so in the very near future, we plan to expand our business services to provide more support to small business owners by offering financial incentives to cultivate more creativity and innovation. We also want to attract new entrepreneurs and industries to Brownsville, so together with local business and community organizations, we will strengthen the entrepreneurial infrastructure so that we develop a qualified workforce, provide vital business support services, create a fertile pro-business climate, and in the end improve our quality of life. Each day, we take small steps toward these goals, and each day we see the success of our members and know that Brownsville is a great city—on its way to greater prosperity.

¡Adelante! Together—We are the Chamber!

Melinda Rodriguez


Chairwoman’s Message – March 2016

Olga Gonzalez

Greetings –

The nineteenth century developers of Brownsville gave us a truly unique and beautiful city, combining the Mexican-Spanish Colonial architectural traditions with formal and folk buildings. This rich blending of history and functionality, the past and the future, is a kind of picture of who we are. Our city, our valley is blessed with a wonderfully optimistic, industrious and warm community of people, and Brownsville Chamber of Commerce continues to be an invaluable point of meeting for us. I’m so grateful you’re a part of it.

Last week the Chamber hosted the first of the 2016 Women in Leadership Speakers Series, presented by Valley Regional Medical Center. Our very special guests were Jamie and Patsy Silva Schanbaum. Jamie’s story of overcoming adversity is truly inspirational. After losing her legs and fingers 8 years ago to meningococcal septicemia, she founded The JAMIE Group to raise awareness and educate the public about this preventable disease. In 2009, Jamie helped to pass Senate Bill 819, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, requiring meningitis vaccinations for all college students in Texas.

I encourage you save the date for the next powerful presentation of the Women in Leadership Speakers Series, featuring Gloria Campos, scheduled for June 29, 2016, from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM at the Historic Alonso Building.

ADB-Facebook1nother great event that you will not want to miss is ¡Despierta Brownsville!; an early morning opportunity to chat about the great things going on in Brownsville. Join us from 7:30 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., on April 13, at The Historic Alonso Building, 510 E. Saint Charles Street. The topic of the presentation will be the Nielsen Border Study insights, presented by the Brownsville Partners that funded the study.

One more advance notice for later in the year: we are honored to have been selected as one of only ten partners across the state to host a 2016 Governor’s Small Business Forum. Plan to be with us on October 27, 2016, at the Brownsville Event Center. From our Press Release: “These forums are designed to give entrepreneurs and small businesses valuable tools, skills, and knowledge needed to thrive in today’s fast-paced economy. The event will feature a wide range of instructive seminars and expert speakers offering vital information on both public and private resources. There will also be a special focus on offering information for women and veteran entrepreneurs.”

Finally, we are continuing to grow and it’s been our pleasure to welcome 18 new members in January and 11 in February. It’s great to have each one with us, and we encourage you to get involved and make the most of all the benefits that come with being part of our dynamic Chamber. Did you know that our Chamber University program includes more than 40 professional programs and workshops throughout the year focused on helping business owners and nonprofit organizations grow and prosper their organizations? Get more information and register online.

We are better together!

Olga Gonzalez
Chairwoman of the Board

Vice President – Professional & Executive Banker, BBVA Compass

January 2016 Member Spotlight: LiftFund

LiftFund Spotlight





Company Name: LiftFund

Business Category: Financial Services

Date joined: November 2000

Services: loans for equipment/inventory financing, working capital, start-up funds, real estate. Small business loans ($500 to $250,000), SBA 7aCA loans, start-up loans up to $50,000, SBA 504 program loans.

LiftFund, non-profit organization in business for 20 years, has steadily been growing successfully in Texas and 13 other states by helping small business owners with limited access to capital to open and grow their businesses. The organization partners with SBA lenders and other lending institutions to provide small business loans and minority loans for women, startups, and entrepreneurs.

Formerly Accion Texas, the company re-branded to LiftFund early last year. The new name and logo aims to communicate elevation and success, creating a strong presence to support customers and partners.

LiftFund joined the Chamber to support the local small business community, develop relationships and create networking opportunities. Their biggest challenge is very few people know about what they offer, however they have overcome this obstacle by partnering up with banks, chambers of commerce, economic development centers, the U.S. Small Business Administration, Small Business Development Center, and other community organizations to create awareness of their services.

Contact information:


1475 Ruben M. Torres Blvd.

Chase Bank Building

Brownsville, TX 78520

P: (888) 215-2373


President’s Message – January 2016

HRBCC-42Greetings! It’s hard to believe that February is just around the corner—but it is. As the largest, pro-business, member-centric organization, we represent the interests of 873 businesses. Our members range from “Mom-and-Pop” shops, manufacturers, and nonprofits that create the safety net that improves our quality of life, to hospitals and health care organizations that heal and care for our loved ones. While all of them may have different business needs, they all share on one thing—they count on the Chamber to be their voice and their greatest advocate for economic growth opportunities. Since I accepted the role as the President/CEO in June, the board of directors, staff, and I have spent time meeting with members and listening to their needs. We hear you loud and clear! You want a return on your investment. That’s what we aim to do.

Over the next few months, we will re-launch events such as speed networking, the business-to- botana expo, and other new innovative programs and events. Also, we have expanded our list of collaborative partners to offer more professional development activities. Through Chamber University, we offer over 40 professional programs and workshops focused on helping business owners and nonprofit organizations grow and prosper their businesses and organizations. We invite you to take advantage of your membership by attending member orientation events, known as Chamber Connect. These events will help you learn how to enhance your membership directory and build your online presence, how to get involved and connected, and how to get access to key experts in areas such as marketing, social media, and human resources. Of course, everyone loves a great networking social, so we are pleased to partner with local corporations to bring you seasonal favorites such as the Charro Days Mixer and the Freedom Mixer in July.

There are numerous ways to get involved and stay connected. Join a committee! The Bienvenidos Committee welcomes new businesses to our city, our Governmental Affairs Committee keeps us connected with our state and federal legislators, and the International Trade and Logistics Committee works to improve trade relations and economic opportunities. The Transportation Committee advocates for traffic and mobility improvements, while the Small Business Development Committee keeps our members engaged by offering programs and events focused on using our “voice and influence” to leverage our collective resources to create a vibrant and sustainable local economy. If you want the Chamber to truly work for you—we invite you to get involved, increase your network of support, expand your expertise, and become a part of growing movement to make our business community more prosperous.

¡Adelante! Together—We are the Chamber!

Melinda Rodriguez

Chairwoman’s Message – Dec. 2015

Olga GonzalezGreetings –

‘Tis the season! Brownsville loves the holidays, and for many of our members it’s the busiest time of the year. I hope it’s turning out to be a season that will exceed your expectations, and that you’ll also find some time to enjoy with those you love.

The leadership gavel was handed to me as the new Chair of our Board of Directors on December 3rd at our Annual Leadership Luncheon. It’s an honor for me to serve the Chamber in this way, and let me take a moment on behalf of us all to thank our outgoing Chairman, Humphrey G. Thomas, for all his hard work over the past year. In addition to the regular duties of a Chairman, he ably led us through a time of transition and the appointment of a new CEO. Thank you, Humphrey.

We were honored to have as keynote speaker for our Leadership Luncheon, the Honorable Carlos H. Cascos, Texas Secretary of State. Mr. Cascos gave an inspiring talk about economic development in Brownsville.

On October 13th, in collaboration with the Port of Brownsville, the Chamber hosted a Public Affairs Luncheon at the Events Center. 150 members turned out to hear a panel presenting information on “LNG in the Rio Grande Valley”; the panel was made up of executives from the three proposed LNG companies: Annova LNG, Rio Grande LNG, and Texas LNG. If you weren’t able to attend, a number of questions were asked and you will find the panel members’ answers published in this e-Newsletter.

Then, on November 19th, we celebrated the beginning of a new chapter in the Chamber’s history with the Grand Re-opening of our beautifully modernized facility. State Representative Eddie Lucio III presented a resolution praising the chamber for its “commitment to the prosperity and vitality of the community” and “lasting, positive impact in the lives of area residents.”

Those who took a tour at the open house saw that it’s an impressive building for our staff to work and welcome the community in, but as our president and CEO, Melinda Rodriguez, has said, this much needed renovation was done “with the members we serve in mind.”

Speaking of our membership, it was our great pleasure to welcome 16 new members during October and November. Let me take this opportunity to again welcome them; it’s great to be part of such a vibrant and growing Chamber.

Looking ahead to a couple of upcoming events:

In the new year, we are partnering with “All In” Brownsville to host a State of Education Luncheon. You might recall that this was previously planned for November, but had to be postponed. It will now take place at the Ambassador Event Center from 11:30am to 1:30pm on Tuesday, January 5th. The United Way of Southern Cameron County will be releasing their 2016 Indicator Report on Education and Human Capital. Also, a featured panel will include representatives from Brownsville Independent School District, Harmony Science Academy, IDEA Public Schools, Saint Joseph Academy, South Texas Independent School District, Texas Southmost College, and The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

And finally, mark your calendar now for the Business to Botana Expo. This is a great annual event that attracts more than 100 booth vendors and 1,000 attendees.

There are many more great things ahead in 2016. I look forward to meeting many of you, and continuing to explore ways that we can all strengthen each other as part of this great Chamber.

We are better together!

Olga Gonzalez
Chairwoman of the Board

Vice President, Rio Bank

November 2015 Member Spotlight: Country Casuals

Nov. Spotlight Image




Company Name: Country Casuals, Inc.

Business Categories: Apparel and Retail

Date Joined: January 1987

Products: Ladies’ clothing, accessories and gifts; baby clothing and accessories.

Country Casuals is a family-owned and operated clothing and accessories boutique. Their mission is to “always provide fine goods and exceptional service to the residents of Brownsville and Matamoros.”

The Gelfer family first started this retail business in 1959 in downtown Brownsville. David and Jayme Gelfer initially operated a leased shoe and accessories department at the Popular and later Darcy’s. Over the years, they faced many challenges, such as the collapse of the roof. Despite such challenges, they remained undefeated and moved forward and opened Country Casuals in 1967. Known for brand name women’s clothing, jewelry, and accessories, the full line boutique maintains generations of loyal customers. The store is located at The Corner Shopping Center on Boca Chica Boulevard.

At present, David and Jayme continue to be very involved in the business. Their daughter Robin Pierce and her husband Mike Piece oversee the store’s day-to-day operations. Robin is the primary store buyer and Mike the president of Country Casuals, who also manages leasing of retail space for The Corner Shopping Center.

Country Casuals has been a member of the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce for 30 years. Although this retail business has gone through the challenges of the Mexican peso devaluation, it continues to thrive thanks to its outstanding customer service, loyal customers and trendy merchandise. The store offers exclusive ladies’ clothing, accessories and gifts; as well as a baby clothing and accessories.

Contact information:

Country Casuals, Inc.

2200 Boca Chica Blvd., Brownsville, TX 78521

P: (956) 546-3771


October 2015 Member Spotlight: JesMar, Inc.

JesMar Member Spotlight

Company Name: JesMar, Inc.

Business Categories: Accountants and Business Services

Date joined: December 8, 2011

Services: Tax preparation for individuals and businesses, IRS resolution, tax planning, business consulting, bookkeeping, and payroll processing services.

JesMar, Inc. has been a Chamber member since the grand opening of its Brownsville location in January 2012. Maria Villarreal started the company in Crown Point, Indiana, in 2006, to provide bookkeeping, payroll, tax preparation, and consulting services to small businesses. A couple of years after her husband passed away, in the winter of 2011, Maria decided to open a second location in Brownsville to be close to family.

Today, JesMar, Inc. employs four staff members, including an administrative assistant and three accounting clerks. The company’s slogan, “your peace of mind is our upmost priority,” reflects the team’s dedication to offer dependable and experienced assistance to their clients. Maria firmly believes that every one of her employees has the potential to one day be a business owner, so she teaches them to be independent and assertive.

Maria considers the Chamber to be an integral part of the formation of a new business, as exposure is essential for building a solid client base. “To become a Chamber member is a very important step for success; and we advise all of our new clients to become members, thus expediting their customer growth. This step is as important as finding the location, the equipment, the furniture and the employees,” Maria said.

Contact information:

JesMar, Inc. 3040 FM 802 Ste. G

Brownsville, TX 78526

P: (210) 485-7334


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