EDINBURG -- The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at The University of Texas-Pan American has earned the U.S. Small Business Administration's Service Excellence and Innovation Award for 2011. The UTPA SBDC was chosen from approximately 1,100 locations across the nation that were eligible for consideration.

"We are ecstatic about this honor," said Maria Juarez-Serna, UTPA's SBDC director. "The award is a testament to the team's hard work, dedication, and service. Our small business community's entrepreneurial nature and call for assistance as well as our partners support and commitment in small business development are key reasons for this award. What makes this extra special for our group is that this year marks our center's 25th anniversary at UTPA."

The honor of top SBDC center in the nation will be awarded to Juarez-Serna by the U.S. Small Business Administration during National Small Business Week 2011 in Washington, D.C., May 16-20.

The SBDC provides business counseling, research and planning assistance, and training for prospective and existing small business owners. Business advisors work closely with these individuals, providing guidance and planning assistance to make informed business decisions. The center also has an assistant director, marketing and training coordinators, seven advisors, administrative staff, and part-time support staff, which includes UTPA students.

The Edinburg-based center, which provides service in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy, and Starr counties, won at the district and regional levels before winning the national title. The criteria for nomination consideration included economic impact information, such as number of clients assisted and new businesses started, jobs created, and capital infused by clients during the last fiscal year.

In 2010, the center served 1,192 clients, trained 3,284 individuals, helped with 88 business startups and 27 expansions, and saw $12.9 million in business investment. The center has been involved in a wide range of projects that include promoting international trade; working with area micro-entrepreneurs through Latina HOPE; partnering with the Mexican Consulate in McAllen to serve foreign nationals in establishing local businesses; and producing a 40-page guide for individuals looking to start and expand small businesses. As a center within the UTPA Business Development & Innovation Group, the SBDC works closely with partners Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC) and the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), as well as chambers of commerce and economic development corporations in its service area to meet the needs of the business community.

"The SBDC here at Pan Am has demonstrated its entrepreneurial spirit on behalf of small businesses for the past 25 years, and this outstanding national recognition is well deserved. Our knowledgeable and dedicated staff has worked collaboratively with communities and organizations on both sides of our U.S.-Mexico border to serve the region. Their commitment has positively impacted thousands of clients and resulted in increased economic development and an improved quality of life for many residents over the years," said UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen.

The UTPA SBDC is a service center of the South-West Texas Border SBDC Network, which covers the southern part of Texas. Al Salgado, director of the South-West Texas Border SBDC Network, called their best-in-class results among 1,100 SBDC service centers nationally a significant accomplishment.

"Your (center's) success helping small businesses is the best solution to recover from this protracted economic recession," Salgado said. "This is a tribute to Maria, her staff, and UTPA for their dedication and commitment to improving and fostering small business growth and job creation for this great State of Texas."

Juarez-Serna said UTPA's SBDC and SBDCs nationwide provide important services to their communities.

"For many entrepreneurs, the presence of an SBDC in a community is a significant driver to their successes. Especially in a time with so many market challenges, SBDCs across the nation are vital for a stable economy. This award only revitalizes our commitment to service," she said. "We thank UTPA and all our partners in the Rio Grande Valley for supporting our efforts to positively impact local business communities."

U.S. Small Business Administration National Small Business Week recognizes the estimated 27.2 million small businesses nationwide according to SBA Administrator Karen Mills.

"Small business owners and employees across America are proving their resiliency as they continue to drive the nation out of recession through economic growth and job creation," Mills said. "National Small Business Week gives us an opportunity to honor their achievements and the spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and determination that makes them the engine of our economy and our nation's economic recovery."

For further information on National Small Business Week, please visit www.nationalsmallbusinessweek.com. For information on the UTPA SBDC, visit them at the UTPA Annex, Suite 160, Edinburg, Texas or reach them at 956-665-7535.