Driving growth in workforce, economy, research, community

  Friday, April 12, 2024
  Grants, Research, Community, Education & Training

By Maria Gonzalez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – APRIL 12, 2024 – UTRGV on Thursday marked the beginning of a transformative facility enhancement project, with a groundbreaking ceremony at the Community Engagement and Student Success Building (CESS) in Edinburg.

Funded by a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), the initiative is designed to enhance the region's workforce, economy, research and community outreach capabilities.

The project is further supported by more than $6 million in institutional funds invested by UTRGV and a $500,000 contribution from Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz, bringing the total project investment to almost $9 million.

During the event, UTRGV President Guy Bailey spoke to how the project will help enhance the university’s dedication to community and economic development.

“Today's groundbreaking lays the foundation for UTRGV to play an important role in advancing the economic and educational aspirations of the Rio Grande Valley,” he said.

He also announced the renaming of the CESS building to the UTRGV Workforce, Economy, Research and Community (WERC) Complex, better representing the building’s transformation and UTRGV’s commitment to those four core areas.

“This is a big day for the entire Rio Grande Valley,” Bailey said. “One of the vows we made in 2014 as we were planning the university was to be deeply engaged with our communities,” he said. “This is probably the best illustration of that. It's about community engagement, job creation, research and, most of all, our students.”

Bailey also emphasized the transformative potential of the WERC Complex and the work to be done there.

“We are turning this into a state-of-the-art, multifunctional facility that will serve as a business incubator across the Valley and house our new initiatives in workforce development and research,” he said.

UTRGV leaders, congressional representatives, EDA Regional Director Jorge Ayala, and elected officials take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for WERC Complex in Edinburg on Thursday, April 11. (UTRGV Photo by Jesús Alférez)


The WERC Complex will see extensive renovations to nearly 80% of its facilities. The comprehensive upgrade includes:

  • Applied research and development laboratories in manufacturing and prototyping, which will expand to cover about 10,000 square feet, enhancing applied research across multiple disciplines.
  • A dry room installation, funded by De La Cruz, which will establish a controlled environment to support key technologies like additive manufacturing. The facility will benefit a range of industry sectors, including battery manufacturing, renewable energy and recycling.
  • 10,000 square feet dedicated to manufacturing incubators and commercialization activities that will enhance development of new and existing businesses.
  • Renovations at UTRGV’s Office of Workforce & Economic Development, along with the co-location of the Texas Manufacturing Assistance Center (TMAC) – changes that will strengthen their role as a one-stop hub for supporting regional economic and workforce initiatives.


Veronica Gonzales, senior vice president for Government and Community Relations, said the project truly will be transformative.

“UTRGV envisions the WERC Complex as a one-stop shop, helping entrepreneurs, small business owners and larger manufacturing companies start or scale up their operations, from concept to commercialization,” she said.

She also said the presence of WERC in the Upper Valley – along with the university’s other facilities like the Center for Innovation and Commercialization in the Mid-Valley, e-Bridge in the Lower Valley, and satellite offices in Mission, Pharr, San Benito and Harlingen – further realizes UTRGV’s mission to serve the entire Rio Grande Valley.


Ron Garza, senior associate vice president for Workforce and Economic Development and the grant's principal investigator, said the WERC Complex will enhance workforce development by integrating training resources with UTRGV's academic and graduate programs, targeting high-wage, high-demand areas.

“We are introducing nearly 100 certifications and endorsements, spanning fields from additive and robotics manufacturing to real estate and pharmacy technician programs,” he said.

He underscored the project's potential for job creation and economic growth.

“We anticipate the creation of approximately 100 new jobs, $3.8 million in labor income, and a total economic output of more than $13 million to the regional economy within the first three years of operation,” Garza said.


Dr. Can (John) Saygin, UTRGV’s senior vice president for Research and dean of the Graduate College, said the university's commitment to upgrading research facilities and expanding capabilities for sustainable research performance at the institutional level is growing rapidly.

“UTRGV, as a regional university, has a presence that spans 200 miles from Brownsville to Laredo,” he said. “Our goal is to enhance our research infrastructure, which in turn drives the societal transformation process, making UTRGV a regional research university.”

He emphasized the importance of industry partnerships in the South Texas workforce.

“By building strong partnerships and bridging various fields, we're dedicated to converting our research into actionable outcomes that support economic development and generate employment,” he said.

Jorge Ayala, EDA regional director, said the partnership EDA has had with UTRGV continues to be very strong.

“UTRGV has really taken on the role of economic development, which not all universities do,” he said. “We're glad to be a part of this project and look forward to continuing our work together.

“This is a great opportunity for students to participate in internships or to bring their own ideas to market,” he said. “Big companies start small, so here's an opportunity for young dreamers, entrepreneurs with great ideas, to develop those into products they can market and build. Hopefully, they can grow these into huge companies that stay here in the Valley.”

The WERC Complex is located at 1407 E. Freddy Gonzalez Dr. in Edinburg. It covers 126,154 square feet and is set for renovation over the next 12 to 15 months. 

Ron Garza, senior associate vice president for Workforce and Economic Development and principal investigator of the grant, said the WERC Complex is set to enhance workforce development by integrating training resources with UTRGV's academic and graduate programs, targeting high-wage, high-demand areas. (UTRGV Photo by Jesús Alférez)


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.