The year is almost over and as we enter the holiday season, I wanted to extend my gratitude for your support of the El Paso Chamber over this last year. While there is much to celebrate at the end of 2021, I want to begin by acknowledging that the year was still full of challenges and difficulties for many. The pandemic is still rippling through our community and the Chamber will continue its relief efforts until members and other business community leaders feel confident about returning to their preferred tempo and scope of operations. We recognize business as the linchpin to economic security and prosperity and will do everything that we can to build that trajectory back up as quickly as possible.
We have had many successes this year, including our role in facilitating coaching and financial assistance to over 1,400 local businesses. I have been pleased that many in the small business community, especially, have turned to us for support, accessing federal funds and business coaching. The small and medium enterprises in El Paso have been resilient and have stayed focused on maintaining their businesses; we are proud to do our part to assist them in their endeavors.
Our efforts with the enhancement of I-10 in the Downtown El Paso corridor continue with tremendous milestones reached. Not only has our partnership with the various entities in El Paso paid dividends in planning and development, but we are also pleased that Congresswoman Veronica Escobar’s efforts at the federal level have helped lay the groundwork for a deck park across I-10. Our community deserves projects that enhance safety and transportation efficiency as well as projects that reconnect neighborhoods and create communal, green space. Our commitment to the freeway expansion is unwavering, not only because it is necessary but because it will continue to add to the vibrancy of downtown El Paso.
The role of the Chamber in helping build more manufacturing has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year. When I started, I was convinced that much of this sector in El Paso was not understood. Over the last year alongside our partners from the City of El Paso and the University of Texas at El Paso, we have spent time and effort in connecting with manufacturers and developing our Manufacturing Innovation Network. This work has also led to new relationships outside of El Paso, such as our connection with Youngstown, Ohio as well as the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. Ultimately our goal is to grow El Paso’s manufacturing, especially in the areas of advanced manufacturing, aerospace and defense. I have spoken a great deal about Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri and Dr. Ryan Wicker, both at UTEP, and I am excited to continue our deep collaboration. Both are tremendous scientists and visionaries in their research, and I am absolutely impressed by their desire to cultivate UTEP students, many from El Paso, to be impactful in the aerospace and space fields. There is no better incubator for engineering talent than the labs that Choudhuri and Wicker run at UTEP. And in breaking news on this front, we just learned that our Build Back Better federal grant application made it to the finalist phase, beating our almost 600 other applications. This is great news for El Paso, as it could mean up to $100 million in funding to accelerate our efforts.
In my last note I acknowledged the work of Arlene Carroll, completing her term as board chair. This month I want to welcome Max Villaronga, Chief Executive Officer of Teachers Federal Credit Union as the 2022 board chair. I have worked with Max a great deal since I started as President and CEO of the Chamber; he is an exceptional leader, greatly influenced by his time as a US Marine, and well versed in the economics of banking and business. Max has been in his role at TFCU since April of 2014. In his time here, Max has taken TFCU’s operations to another level and as the community has weathered the pandemic, Max and his team have been right there to help their members. I cannot be more excited by his desire to be board chair and know that he will serve the Chamber membership very well.
In January’s note, I will lay out the strategy for the new year, but in the meantime, I wish you all the best holiday season. Take comfort in your family and friends and in the community we live in; recognize that we are all in this together and our best efforts will get us past the difficult times with grace and optimism. I hope you have a chance to rest this holiday season and on behalf of the team at the Chamber – Happy Holidays!