Small business owners and community leaders in Brownsville, Texas, identified their community’s economic strengths and weaknesses in a series of discussions hosted by Edna Ledesma, a Texas A&M Ph.D. Urban and Regional Sciences student, as part of her doctoral studies.
The groups’ findings are informing a federal strategic plan for sustainable development in U.S. cities, a municipal downtown development plan and a regional economic plan, said Ledesma.
The meetings, “Platicas (conversations) for Local Economic Development in South Texas,” earned Ledesma the 2016 Student Project of the Year award from the Texas chapter of the American Planning Association.
“The chapter recognizes exemplary work that shows the value of planners and planning to our state and its people,” said Kim Mickelson, president of the Texas APA and Texas A&M visiting associate professor of urban planning.
The chapter presented Ledesma with the honor Nov. 4, 2016 during an awards ceremony at its annual conference in San Antonio.
In the platicas project, 40 participants concluded that Brownsville lacks capital and resources for small businesses, identified its younger generation as its biggest economic asset, and highlighted the economic importance of vendors who sell goods at local markets.
To host the project’s three meetings, one for vendors and business owners, one for city leaders and one where both groups came together to discuss their views, Ledesma partnered with the city of Brownsville and architecture students and faculty at Texas Southmost College who served as discussion leaders and note takers.
After participating in the platicas, representatives from the U.S. Small Business Administration provided an economic development specialist from their agency on a bi-weekly basis to assist Brownsville residents and veterans looking to open or expand a business.
The platicas were part of the Climate, Energy, Environment and Engagement in Semiarid Regions Research Coordination Network, a five-year National Science Foundation-funded project led by Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture.