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El Centro eyed for ‘business incubator'

May 18, 2001|By ARTURO BOJ"RQUEZ and AARON CLAVERIE, Staff Writers

While the city of Calexico didn't get $989,000 to develop a "business incubator" system, Imperial County Board of Supervisors' Chairman Tony Tirado is looking for a new site for the project: El Centro.

Tirado said Thursday that by the end of the month he will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to talk with U.S. Department of Commerce authorities to seek funds for the project.

"As we lost completely the money for the Calexico site, if we can apply in the county and solve the problem with another city that wants to fill the application and there is one, that's the support I will insist on."

Tirado said the project is of great value not only for a city but for the entire county.

Mexicali entrepreneurs such as Economic Development Commission Director Sergio Tagliapietra and former Mexicali Mayor Eduardo Martinez Palomera have been enthusiastic about the project.

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The incubator project is being pushed by the Small Manufacturers Association of California.

Brad Ward, president of the nonprofit SMAC, described Friday the type of project that will be planned for El Centro.

"Instead of calling it an ‘incubator' we will be referring to it as an "accelerator," Ward said.

He said the building will house existing companies looking to do business with the booming maquiladora industry of Mexicali.

By taking advantage of inexpensive Imperial Valley real estate and tailoring products to the needs of changing maquiladora industries, Ward hopes to attract nine companies in three industries.

He said the industries and the types of companies that move into the proposed accelerator would depend on the needs of the maquiladora industries.

Since the project is only in the planning stages, he did not mention how many jobs would be created nor what level of skills those workers would need, but he did say he is looking forward to providing a stimulus to the Valley.

Said Tirado: "There are going to be jobs for the Imperial Valley, but the only reason now to make this project here is for Mexicali."

Tirado hopes the federal government recognizes the value of the project and supports the El Centro location.

The application will be filed with the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration by the beginning of the next fiscal year in October.

Tirado said he will present the comprehensive plan in Seattle in December before EDA officials.

Wil Marshal, a representative in the EDA's Los Angeles office, said he wants to work with the Imperial Valley on the project — regardless of what happened with the Calexico project.

On Tuesday, Juan Verdugo, director of the Calexico Community and Economic Development Agency, sent a memo to the City Council informing it of what happened from the city's perspective to the proposed incubator "smart building" that was to have been on Cole Road.

According to the memo, the EDA project officer, JoAnn Smith, had problems getting information from Ward. Smith coordinated the efforts between the manufacturing association and the city.

Ward said he gave her everything he had but the city didn't provide the info to him.

"A lot of information that only the city would have access to, for instance, the transfer of the land on Cole Road and the environmental studies for the project …

"When working on a project that involves digging things up, it takes a lot of planning. Calexico didn't have the time and money," Ward said.

Ward agreed with Verdugo's memo when it said Ward informed Smith the incubator project, as it had been planned, was no longer feasible.

"The maquiladora industry is the primary driver. If they don't buy from the companies that would have been housed in the incubator, the economic model is not viable," Ward said.

He added: "We spent two and a half years working to get the project in Calexico and we got no respect from the city. Maybe another group can take advantage of this money."

El Centro City Manager Abdel Salem said city leaders are interested in the project.

"We will talk to state officials to see the project and apply to obtain funds for the city," he said.

Salem added the EDA money for the incubator, or accelerator, could reach $1.2 million and probably could be more from other organizations.

Salem said it would cost $3 million to construct a facility to serve as the incubator.

The place considered is the industrial park east of the city.

"We have the land and we have marketed this site," Salem said.

He welcomed the project and stated it would be a plus for everybody in the Valley.

"The point is to create jobs," he said.

Staff Writer Arturo Bojórquez can be reached at 332-5708.

Staff Writer Aaron Claverie can be reached at 337-3419.

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