Brownsville made a strong showing among this year’s U.S. Small Business Administration awards for the Lower Rio Grande Valley District, winning five of the SBA’s 12 award categories.
The winners were recognized at a May 24 Small Business Awards ceremony at the University of Texas-Pan American, featuring a keynote speech by Yolanda Garcia Olivarez, regional administrator for SBA Region 6.
Wendy Hanson, community impact director for United Way of Southern Cameron County, was named Veteran Small Business Champion of the Year. She was nominated for her role in creating the Cameron County Coalition for Veterans, whose aim is to address the wave of returning veterans who are unemployed and likely to become dependent on social services.
Since 2011, Hanson has helped 15 veterans find work through the CCCV. Nine employers have received incentives to hire veterans, and more than 50 veterans have gotten help with resumes, been steered to networking events, or made other progress through the program.
Sandra Lopez-Langley, business development officer for First Community Bank, won Area Financial Services Champion of the Year. She was nominated for assisting small business owners in the Valley during her 35 years in banking and also for being active in several non-profit organizations.
Lopez-Langley is also active in the Brownsville Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation. She has been working with a local high school to teach a spring-semester course for girls about how to use banking services, the importance of saving and maintaining a good credit score, credit cards, loans and other financial matters.
Eileen Mattei, managing editor of the Valley Business Report, was named small Business Journalist of the Year for 2013. She was nominated for spotlighting a wide spectrum of small business across the Valley, promoting small business in her community and informing readers on matters of local commerce.
Mattei is also active in business networking events and business training courses presented by the SBA and UTPA’s Small Business Development Center.
Nancy Reed, a 14-year human resources veteran and principal with Express Employment Professionals, won the Women in Business Champion of the Year award. She was nominated for helping women business owners understand issues surrounding the hiring and retaining of employees and handling employee-related issues.
Reed volunteers her time to help women Mexican nationals become business owners by teaching them how to do business legally in the United States. She has also taught HR subjects as for the past three years as part of the chamber’s Women’s Entrepreneur Small Business Boot Camp. Reed is on the chamber board and chairs its Small Business Development Committee.
Franceli Villaseñor of DC Distributors was named SBA’s Home-Based Business Champion of the Year. She established the company in April 2012 to provide distribution logistics for Don Chelada Michelada Mix, a self-contained mix in a 24-ounce Styrofoam tumbler.
DC Distributors averages 30,000 cups sold monthly, has 350 accounts and distributes to stores such as H-E-B, A/V Lopez and the Blue Marlin Supermarket on South Padre Island. Villaseñor also has home-based distributors in McAllen, Laredo and Dallas.
The Brownsville Chamber of Commerce began nominating locals for the SBA awards in 2009.
Angela Burton, the chamber’s president and CEO, said Brownsville has had a consistently strong showing each year and that none of the chamber’s nominees has been rejected.
She said SBA’s review process is strict and that the chamber selects its nominees carefully throughout the year. In fact, chamber staff is already considering nominees for next year, Burton said. The actual nominating process begins in October, she said.
Burton said most of the people the chamber nominates volunteer their time above and beyond their normal jobs. All in all, Brownsville’s business community is “exceptional,” she said.
“I think small business is the backbone of our economy, and I think small-business people deserve to be recognized,” Burton said. “These awards are well deserved and I’m very proud.”