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In the United States, there are more than 10 million businesses — with 50 percent or more of those firms owned by women – that employ 13 million people and generate nearly $2 trillion in annual revenues, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C. In South Texas, the Women’s Business Center (WBC) – headquartered on the third floor of the Wells Fargo Bank, 2852 W. Trenton Road, on the corner of Trenton and McColl roads in Edinburg – is playing a major role in helping ensure that Rio Grande Valley residents are also part of that growing national trend. “The Women’s Business Center is focused on providing services to area women who want to learn more about how to start or expand their companies,” said María “Charo” Mann, the WBC’s chief executive officer. “We feature, free-of-charge, a dedicated staff which can help guide people from all walks of life to their goals. Plus, we offer seminars, presentations, and other special events – often at no charge  – that provide South Texans with direct contact to other professionals who are experts in what it takes to start and expand a successful business.” The local Women’s Business Center has launched an Internet website at http://www.wbc-rgv.org to provide more information to South Texans, or may also be contacted at 618-2828. See lead story later in this posting.

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In today’s world where tons of trash is discarded daily, Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has taken a proactive step to protect the environment and promote recycling in Edinburg. They are among of handful of test sites within the Edinburg business community working with the Edinburg Recycling and Education Center to promote efforts to recycle without the fear of contamination, and at the same time reducing waste to preserve natural resources. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker in the U.S. uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, equaling to four million tons of copy paper. Recycling one ton of paper saves enough energy to power the average American home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent. The City of Edinburg Recycling Center staff delivered the Clearstream containers to Edwards Abstract and Title Co. branch office located at 3111 W. Freddy González Drive. Featured from left: Mark Peña; Armando Mayorga, Edinburg Recycling Center; Vinnie García; Janie Chapa, Edinburg Recycling Center; Dolly Villarreal; Nancy Lemke; Nora Cano; Susie Mercado; Diana Kaufold; Angela García; and Libby Luis. See story later in this posting.

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The 2008 winners of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s 2nd Annual Medical Awards Banquet, held on Saturday, November 15, at the Embassy Suites in McAllen, included two Edinburg physicians: Dr. Ben Garza, a family practice doctor, and Dr. Carlos Manrique, an ophthalmologist. The keynote speaker for the event was Dr. Filiberto Rodríguez, the first heart surgeon in the Valley. Rodríguez spoke on the positive changes of the medical care in the Valley going back to 1983, when he first arrived. Now, there are so many specialized doctors in the area that residents don’t have to go out of the Valley to seek medical attention or surgery. The event was sponsored by Aetna Insurance, New York Life/Armando Brennan, Manrique Custom Vision Center, Texas HealthSpring, BVAA Compass, Apex, South Texas Health System, IKON and Humana.  Entries were submitted for judging to a committee of medical professionals in Austin. In addition to the two local doctors, other health professionals were recognized for their contributions. From left: Gilda Romero, Hospital Administrator of the McAllen Heart Hospital, Hospital of the Year; Hari Namboodiri, Administrator of Las Palmas Health Care Center, Nursing Home of the Year; Dr. Ben Garza, General Physician of the Year; Jean Calvert of South Texas Behavioral Center, Nurse of the Year; Rose Ramírez, MHCC Vice Chair of Health Issues; Dr. Carlos Manrique of Manrique Custom Vision Center, Specialty Physician of the Year, and Orlando Velásquez, Physician Assistant with Dr. Enrique Griego as Physician Assistant of the Year.

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Women’s Business Center empowering residents with knowledge, contacts, and vision to succeed

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

In the United States, there are more than 10 million businesses — with 50 percent or more of those firms owned by women – that employ 13 million people and generate nearly $2 trillion in annual revenues, according to the Center for Women’s Business Research in Washington, D.C.

In South Texas, the Women’s Business Center (WBC) – headquartered on the third floor of the Wells Fargo Bank, 2852 W. Trenton Road, on the corner of Trenton and McColl roads in Edinburg – is playing a major role in helping ensure that Rio Grande Valley residents are also part of that growing national trend.

“The Women’s Business Center is focused on providing services to area women who want to learn more about how to start or expand their companies,” said María “Charo” Mann, the WBC’s chief executive officer.

“We feature, free-of-charge, a dedicated staff which can help guide people from all walks of life to their goals,” she noted. “Plus, we offer seminars, presentations, and other special events – often at no charge  – that provide South Texans with direct contact to other professionals who are experts in what it takes to start and expand a successful business.”

The local Women’s Business Center has launched an Internet website at http://www.wbc-rgv.org to provide more information to South Texans, or may also be contacted at 618-2828.

The Women’s Business Center is one of 98 WBCs nationwide, located through 44 states and two territories which are governed by the Office of Women’s Business Ownership of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The SBA’s goal is for the women’s business centers to promote the growth of women-owned businesses by providing business training and technical assistance, helping with access to credit and capital, and identifying federal contract and international trade opportunities. Last year, more than 129,000 clients received assistance through the 98 women’s business centers.

“We provide a general overview of what is involved to be in business, such as marketing, financial projections, product research, and successfully obtaining loans from banks,” said Mann. “We are seeing women who want to start up home-based businesses, who want to go into franchising of restaurants, and who want to get enter the environmental fields. Their goals vary, from starting small, home-based businesses, to expanding very sophisticated companies.”

The Women’s Business Center has been in existence for approximately five years, moving from McAllen to Edinburg in early 2008 in order to provide a more centralized location, and equally important, to have access to a training center, which is located on the third floor of the Wells Fargo Bank.

“We are very excited. In such a short period of time, we have been able to form a very strong team on our staff,” Mann said. “We have someone who provides business counseling on a one-to-one basis, we have someone who is our special events coordinator, and we have someone who is networking with the community. We can go to those who need help with micro-enterprising, looking for other options in financing in order to expand their business.”

(In general, a micro-enterprise is a business started with a very small capital than would be necessary for a larger business.)

As a former business owner, Mann says that in her experiences, men and women often share the same obstacles in determining how to launch their businesses.

“I believe men and women face the same challenges in trying to build a business. I myself have been a business owner, but my gender was not the issue,” she explained. “I had to find out how to approach prospective clients, what types of technology to use to communicate, basic things that affect all small business owners, whether they are a man or a woman.

“Although the Women’s Business Center places an emphasis on women entrepreneurs, we continue to welcome men to tap into the resources of the WBC and take part in all of our seminars and presentations,” she added.

Texas Valley Communities Foundation

Mann also serves as executive director for the Texas Valley Communities Foundation (TVCOF), which addresses the critical needs of the Rio Grande Valley by providing funding to non-profit organizations that support life changing initiatives in the areas of education, children/youth, health, economic and service development.

More information on the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, which is led by its president, Dr. Roland S. Arriola, is also available on the Internet at http://www.tvcof.org, or by calling the TVCOF at 630-3331. TVCOF is also located on the third floor of the Wells Fargo Bank at the corner of McColl and Trenton roads in Edinburg.

Mann explained that although the Texas Valley Communities Foundation and the Women’s Business Center are located in the same building, they are dedicated to a shared goal.

“There is a lot of synergy between them,” she said. “The Texas Valley Communities Foundation gives us the perspective on what is needed, in terms of services for the community in general.”

Through a growing and continuing monthly series of public seminars held throughout the Rio Grande Valley, the Women’s Business Center puts into action the concept that knowledge is power.

During November, for example, the Women’s Business Center scheduled numerous learning sessions important to any prospective or current business owner, including:

  • Wednesday, November 19, the Small Business Insurance Basics Seminar, featuring Susan Williams, Vice-President of Shepard Walton King Insurance Group;
  • Thursday, November 20, the Recognizing Fraud Seminar, featuring special agents with the FBI and co-sponsored by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Small Business Administration; and
  • Tuesday, November 25, the Privacy in the Workplace: Past–Present–Future seminar, featuring attorney Megan Lindberg, and co-sponsored by Cox-Smith.

The Women’s Business Center has been steadily increasing its seminars and related presentations.

In October, the Women’s Business Center coordinated seven presentations, ranging from “Banking on Growth”, hosted by the Starr County Industrial Foundation in Rio Grande City, to “Putting your Website into a Marketing Package” at the WBC headquarters in Edinburg.

Approximately 10 additional seminars are scheduled for November.

More to come

Mann said the coming months will see the number of presentations, and the length of those seminars, continue to increase.

“We are also looking forward to providing half-day seminars where we feature different panels, including luncheons with keynote speakers to take place each quarter, and we are planning our annual Women’s Business Conference next spring,” she said. “Those are the events that we will provide in-house, but some of these will involve partnerships, such as with chambers of commerce or local economic development corporations. Due to limited funding, we are very successful at leveraging resources with our area partners. We do not believe in creating another service that another organization is already providing.”

The talent pool in the Valley is deep in more ways than one, she emphasized.

The Women’s Business Center’s seminars also represent opportunities for owners of established businesses to benefit by sharing their expertise with the public.

“One prime example is attorneys who would like to provide legal information, at no cost, to women

who want to start or expand their businesses,” Mann said. “Marketing, web page development, insurance and banking professionals also benefit from these opportunities. In essence, we are a conduit between them and the community.  It’s a win-win for everyone.”

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New numbers show women-owned firms comprise 40 percent of all U.S. companies

Women-owned firms are keeping pace with all firms according to the biennial update from the Center for Women’s Business Research.

As of 2008, the Center projects that the 10.1 million women-owned firms, that are 50 percent or more women owned, employ 13 million people and generate nearly $2 trillion in annual revenues.  These firms represent 40 percent of all firms.

American Express OPEN continues as the exclusive underwriter of the 2008 biennial update.

“Despite challenges in our economy, we are pleased to see that women-owned firms continued to hold their own,” said Margaret A. Smith, chair, Center for Women’s Business Research. “The 2008 estimates were calculated using the Center’s new proprietary forecast model developed in cooperation with the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.  This powerful model for the first time takes into account fluctuations in the economy, geographic variations, and demographic differences.”

The new projections also show that there are 7.2 million majority-owned (51 percent or more) women-owned businesses that employ 7.3 million people and generate

$1.1 trillion in annual revenues.

Majority women-owned firms comprise 29 percent of all firms.

Women-owned firms exceed the growth rate of all firms 10 percent to nine percent, matched the growth in employees at two percent, and grew their revenues by 14 percent compared to 15 percent for all firms.

“The 2008 figures validate the success and progress women business have made as they continue to be the fastest-growing segment of entrepreneurship in the country,” said Michelle Thompson-Dolberry, director, advocacy marketing at American Express OPEN. “The continued success of women-owned businesses across the board is so important to helping create jobs and drive economic growth.”

Retail trade has the largest number of firms owned by women (1.4 million) and wholesale trade generated the most sales (over $400 billion). With more than two million, accommodation and food services has the most employees.

Between 2002 and 2008, the five fastest growing states for women-owned firms (in rank order with fastest growing listed first) are: Nevada and Arizona (tied for fastest growing), Florida, Texas, Maryland and Georgia.

For the same time period, the five fastest growing metro areas for women-owned firms are:  Orlando, FL; Raleigh, NC; Atlanta, GA and Riverside, CA (tied for third); Charlotte, NC; and Phoenix, AZ (in rank order with fastest growing listed first).

This year is the ninth biennial update of women-owned firms published by the Center for Women’s Business Research.  The Center is the only organization that consistently tracks the growth and economic impact of women-owned businesses.

To purchase individual reports or an entire set, please send an email to:

info@womensbusinessresearch.org

The Center for Women’s Business Research provides data-driven knowledge that advances the economic, social, and political impact of women business owners. They do this by setting the national agenda; creating insight on the status and achievements of women business owners; altering perceptions about the economic viability and progress of women-owned enterprises; and driving awareness of the economic and social impact of this vital business sector.

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EEDC officials, private investor receive update on planned $40 million UTPA fine arts center

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With plans moving forward for the construction of a new fine arts auditorium at the University of Texas-Pan American, private investors are also looking at building a conference center in Edinburg,

according to former Mayor Richard García, the president of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

In addition to Garcia, the EEDC’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; Fred Palacios; Dr. Glenn E. Martínez, Ph.D.; and Elias Longoria, Jr.

García said he and Ramiro Garza, Jr., the executive director for the EEDC, met Thursday morning,  November 20,with UTPA officials and at least one private investor regarding the update for the planned fine arts complex.

He did not identify the university officials or investor(s) who participated in the session, which García said he requested in order to help push forward both projects.

“We met at 9 this morning – Ramiro Garza and myself – and another group, which is interested in building a conference center in our city, to be sure there is not any duplication of effort,” García. “We received a nice update on the (planned UTPA) building and some of the layout, some of the work needed with the city in order to reach the goals they have in connection with its location to the main campus.”

García’s comments came following a presentation at noon on Thursday, November 20, by Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, president of the University of Texas-Pan American, who was the keynote speaker at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center.

Her appearance was part of a series of legislative luncheons, held every two months, coordinated by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

Also in attendance at the presentation by Cárdenas, which did not include any reference to the planned fine arts center for the university, was Mayor Joe Ochoa, Edinburg school board vice president David Torres, Edinburg school board treasurer Ciro Treviño.

García said he has been spearheading efforts to organize meetings with the university in order to help make the fine arts complex a reality, noting that he “set this particular meeting.

“I think these kinds of meetings are important, I think they are going to continue,” García said. “It is important that all developments (that impact UT-Pan American), all major investors in our area be on the same page, so there is no duplication of efforts.”

Funding for the fine arts complex was a major victory in 2007 for the city’s legislative delegation, specifically Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, who earmarked the tens of millions of dollars from the state budget for the much-anticipated complex.

The fine arts facility was part of the city’s and EEDC’s legislative agenda in 2007.

García said UTPA is working on the preliminary phases of the planned facility along several fronts.

“My understanding is that in the past few days, they were traveling, visiting several sites,” he said. “I don’t want to speak for the university, but I think they do have an established timeline, a scheduled and projected opening date for their facility. I will leave that up to them to make the date announcement.”

García suggested a second private interest may also be looking at building a conference center in the three-time All-America City.

“There is interest from a least two different parties,” he reported. “Basically, they have been working and talking with EEDC for (help) on infrastructure, things for which the EEDC usually participates.”

The EEDC collects a one-half cent sales tax, which add up to millions of dollars, which it can use to administer and pay for projects that promote economic development.

Noting the high-profile cultural assets and events at UT-Pan American which attract thousands of visitors to Edinburg on annual basis, García suggested that public and private facilities for large gatherings are a natural fit for the city and the community’s economic prosperity.

“Because of our higher cultural awareness, we are going to see many of these types of developments, soon,” García predicted.

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Edinburg’s 5.3 percent unemployment rate in October best in Valley, better than Texas, U.S.

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted a 5.3 percent unemployment rate in October 2008, the best showing among the major Valley cities, and better than the state’s 5.6 percent rate and the nation’s 6.5 percent rate for the same month, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and  actively seeking work.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

In September 2008, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, the same as in August. In July, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, 5.3 percent in June, 4.6 percent in May, 4.1 percent in April, 4.5 percent in March, 4.4 percent in February, and 4.9 percent in January.

In October 2008, there were 28,588 persons employed in the three-time All-America City, while 1,596 were actively looking for work.

The October 2008 unemployment rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,584 jobs since October 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

So far this year, the city unemployment rate has averaged slightly more than 4.9 percent.

In 2007, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 4.8 percent.

In 2006, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent, while in 2005, Edinburg’s unemployment rate averaged 4.9 percent.

The best showing in history for Edinburg came in November 2007, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent.

For all of 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg averaged 4.8 percent, according to the latest state figures compiled by the TWC.

In October 2007, there were 27,672 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In October 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.

In October 2006, there were  27,447 people employed in Edinburg. In October 2006, the unemployment rate was 4.8 percent.

In October 2005, there were 26,004 people employed in Edinburg. In October 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.

Those levels represent some of the lowest unemployment rates and the largest numbers of people employed in the city’s history.

All cities in Hidalgo County for October 2008 had a combined 7.7 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.9 percent in September, 7.8 percent in August, 7.7 percent in July, 7.2 percent in June, 6.1 percent in May, 5.7 percent in April, 6.4 percent in March, 6.6 percent in February, and 7.3 percent in January.

In October, there were 262,326 persons employed in Hidalgo County, with 21,902 actively looking for work.

For October 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 7.4 percent unemployment rate. compared with 7.5 percent in September, 7.4 percent in August, seven percent in July, 6.8 percent in June, 5.9 percent in May, 5.4 percent in April, 5.8 percent in March, 5.9 percent in February, and 6.5 percent in January.

In October, there were 134,978 persons employed in Cameron County, with 10,833 actively looking for work.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley, had the second-best showing among major Valley cities in October 2008 at 5.4 percent, compared with 5.3 percent in September, 5.3 percent in August, 5.1 percent in July, 4.8 percent in June, 4.3 percent in May, 3.9 percent in April 4.3 percent in March, 4.5 percent in February, and 4.8 percent in January.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in October at 6.3 percent, compared with 6.4 percent in September, 6.2 percent in August, six percent in July, 5.9 percent in June, 5.3 percent in May, 4.8 percent in April, five percent in March, 5.1 percent in February, and 5.4 percent in January.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in October 2008:

  • Mission posted a seven percent unemployment rate, the same as in September. Mission had previously reported an unemployment rate of 6.8 percent in August, 6.7 percent  in July, and 5.9 percent in June.
  • Pharr reported a 6.8 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.2 percent in September, seven percent in August, 6.8 percent in July, and 6.4 percent in June.
  • Brownsville posted a 7.6 percent unemployment rate, the same as in September, 7.5 in August, 7.2 percent in July and seven percent in June.
  • Weslaco reported a 7.6 unemployment rate, compared with 8.2 percent  in September, 8.1 percent in August, 7.9 percent in July, and 7.4 percent in June.

The breakdown of Edinburg’s unemployment rate for the past 22 months follows:

  • October 2008: 5.3 percent
  • September 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • August 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • July 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • June 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • May 2008: 4.6 percent.
  • April 2008: 4.1 percent.
  • March 2008: 4.5 percent.
  • February 2008: 4.4 percent.
  • January 2008: 4.9 percent.
  • December 2007: 4.7 percent.
  • November 2007: 3.7 percent.
  • October 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • September 2007: 5 percent.
  • August 2007: 4.9 percent.
  • July 2007: 5.8 percent.
  • June 2007: 5.5 percent.
  • May 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • April 2007: 4.3 percent.
  • March 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • February 2007: 4.8 percent.
  • January 2007: 4.9 percent.

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 23,000 jobs  in October. Texas employers now have added 230,400 jobs in the past 12 months, for an annual job  growth rate of 2.2 percent. The United States recorded 1.1 million job losses during the same period.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 5.6 percent in October, up from 5.1 percent in  September and 4.3 percent in October 2007.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed to 6.5 percent in October, up from 6.1 percent in September and 4.8 percent a year ago.

“The combination of Hurricane Ike and adverse national economic trends has resulted in a one-half  percent increase in the unemployment rate in Texas for October,” said Texas Workforce Commission  (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “While Texas still has nearly a one percent lower unemployment rate  than the rate of the nation, I would expect unemployment rates in Texas to continue to track the  national trend upward in the months ahead.”

The increase in the number of unemployed (not seasonally adjusted)  in the Houston and Beaumont  Metropolitan Statistical Areas, which were impacted by Hurricane Ike, represents nearly half of the  increase in the unemployed reported statewide.

The Midland MSA experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.1 percent (not  seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.7 percent, followed by the Amarillo and Lubbock MSAs at 3.9 percent.

Professional and Business Services gained 12,200 positions in October, for an industry gain of 62,000 jobs in the past year. Education and Health Services grew by 3,700 jobs this month, adding  34,700 jobs in the past 12 months.

“Texas is in a better position than most other states with continued positive job growth,” said TWC  Commissioner Representing the Public Andres Alcántara. “However, we must remain diligent  throughout our state, strategically connecting workers to job opportunities.”

Trade, Transportation and Utilities employment increased by 2,700 jobs in October, with 34,300 positions added over the year. Natural Resources and Mining gained 1,600 jobs this month, with 16,500 jobs added since October 2007.

“The Texas unemployment rate rose again this month, but remains far below the national  unemployment rate,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Through TWC and the 28 local workforce development boards, job search assistance and training are available to Texas workers.

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Edwards Abstract and Title Company teams up with Edinburg Recycling Center to reduce carbon footprint

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA

In today’s world where tons of trash is discarded daily, Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has taken a proactive step to protect the environment and promote recycling in Edinburg.

The City of Edinburg Recycling and Educational Center is working with a handful of test sites within the Edinburg business community.  The Workplace Recycling Program gives businesses the opportunity to recycle without the fear of contamination and at the same time reducing waste to preserve natural resources.

According to Janie Chapa, Recycling Center Director, the City of Edinburg’s long-term goal is to implement a city-wide recycling effort.

“The Workplace Recycling Program beta sites will help us monitor the quantities of recyclables collected by various sized businesses. This is important as we prepare to involve and educate the business community in Edinburg, and it also gives the City of Edinburg the appropriate time to prepare for the initiation and collection process,” she said.

Mark Peña, a partner of the law firm of Lewis, Monroe & Peña, legal counsel to the title company, said the recycling program sends out an important message to other area businesses.

“Because Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has always been a leader in the local business community, I thought it was important that we lead with local environmental efforts as well,” he said.

As a member of Edinburg’s Environment Advisory Board and a coordinator of the city’s new CoolCities environmental campaign, Peña and his fellow board and CoolCities team members have led the effort to make Edinburg a greener city.

“Recycling is one of the easiest things we can do to conserve natural resources, save energy, and reduce carbon emissions in our community,” said Peña.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker in the U.S. uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, equaling to four million tons of copy paper. Recycling one ton of paper saves enough energy to power the average American home for six months, saves 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3. cubic yards of landfill space, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions by one metric ton of carbon equivalent.

This past July, Edinburg became the first Rio Grande Valley city to sign onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement and joined cities like Austin, Boulder and Seattle in pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city by seven percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012.  To achieve this, Edinburg has committed to, among other solutions, increase recycling rates in city operations and in the community.

“Edwards Abstract and Title Co. and Lewis Monroe & Peña want to be a part of the solution to climate change and do their part for the environmental future of our community and the rest of the world, and I look forward to the city’s expansion of its recycling program to include all businesses and a residential curbside recycling service soon,” said Peña.

Every week, recycling is collected from each of Edwards’ four branch offices and delivered to the Edinburg Recycling Center.  The staff has also made individual commitments to collect paper, newspaper and aluminum during the work day and to be mindful of recycling at work and at home.

As part of the beta site recycling project, the City of Edinburg has delivered seven Clearstream containers to the Edwards Abstract and Title Co. office located at 3111 W. Freddy González Drive.

There are two types of recycling bins: one container is marked for paper only which includes white and mixed paper and cardboard, and the other is marked for plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

For more information on this program, please call the Edinburg Recycling and Educational Center at 292-2133. The center is located at 3102 S. Business 281.

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Reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving holiday

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on our blessings and to share a feast with family and friends. These tough economic times may find many in South Texas and throughout the country doing without or with a lot less during the holidays.

This year, I encourage everyone to practice volunteerism, generosity and frugality so that we can weather the challenges our nation is facing.

I commend the untiring efforts of our charitable and religious communities for the tremendous roles they are playing to alleviate hunger and suffering. Our business community should also be commended for its zeal to contribute voluntarily. For example, HEB hosts an annual Feast of Sharing, and this year 250,000 hot meals will be served by volunteers in a total of 22 Texas cities, along with six “Posadas” in Mexico.

Another business with a commendable record of giving is Keppel AmFELS, Inc. This year the company donated $20,000 to the Rio Grande Valley Food Bank, which translates into more than 100,000 meals.

While it is heartwarming to witness the spirit of giving in our region, the tremendous and growing need still tugs at my heart strings.

During the upcoming legislative session in January, I am committed to securing dollars that provide needed services to those who are struggling or suffering. I also feel it my duty to ensure that tax dollars are properly directed and funding cuts that hurt the neediest of Texans do not pass muster.

For example, we must be cautious in proposing property tax limits by alternating them with higher sales taxes. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, my concern that such a proposal may create a regressive tax that disproportionately affects low-income people to the point that they lose practically all buying power will guide my decisions.

Another area of need is health care.My son, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, and I, in our respective chambers, have filed bills that would establish the University of Texas Health Science Center – South Texas. This area is long overdue for a medical school and health-related degree programs to train our local residents to not only study at home but stay and set up medical practices to expand health services.

Last year, working with my son, we were finally able to legislatively remove 10 years of bureaucratic hurdles and approve $10 million for renovations to the South Texas Health Care System clinic in Harlingen. In a faltering economy where competition for funding is at an all-time high, we can be thankful for a project that will expand and improve health care delivery for the indigent.

Times are not just tough, but they’re changing and moving rapidly, hopefully toward a better future.

On November 4, we held a presidential election, and soon after, on November 11, Veterans Day, we celebrated the heroes who have risked and offered their lives to secure our precious right to vote.

On January 13, we begin the 81st Legislative Session in Texas, and on January 20, my own birthday, we usher in a new administration in Washington.

Thankfully, all of this is possible in a democracy protected by our military men and women of past and present. Our American soldiers are fighting an unpopular war in Iraq, and thousands more are stationed in other foreign countries, including in war-ravaged places like Afghanistan. Yet because of them and their predecessors, we can all agree to be thankful for the liberty they have fought and died for.

This Thanksgiving holiday, I would like to encourage the people of District 27 to thank our service men and women and their loved ones who endure their absences, injuries and losses with almost equal bravery.

And I ask for prayers of guidance and support for our U.S. President-elect and his Cabinet, all of our regional and local elected officials, especially those newly elected, my fellow legislators and for me.

My family and I wish everyone in Senate District 27 a safe, healthy and blessed Thanksgiving Day!

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Rep. Callegari files bill to allow 13th pension check to Texas retired teachers if state funds are available

On Monday, November 17, Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, filed a bill to allow the Teacher Retirement System of Texas to provide supplemental annuity payments to retired teachers. As introduced, House Bill 274 allows TRS to provide retired teachers with a 13th check in the event of a surplus in the teacher retirement fund. Currently, the agency does not have the authority to provide supplemental payments on its own.

“TRS cannot issue 13th checks to Texas’ retired teachers without the Legislature’s permission,” said Callegari. “This limits the agency’s flexibility to manage the teacher retirement fund for the benefit of our retired teachers, particularly when the retirement fund has a surplus. I think that our retired educators deserve better than have to wait every two years for the Legislature to approve another supplemental payment.”

In 2007 the Legislature voted to authorize TRS to distribute a 13th check to retired teachers using surplus funds from the teacher retirement fund. That year, retired teachers in the TRS system received an extra, one-time check for up to $2,400.

While TRS does not have the authority to distribute supplemental payments to its retired members, the Employee Retirement System of Texas, the agency responsible for administering the state employee pension fund, does. HB 274 provides TRS with the same authority that ERS has under Texas law.

“While I think that this authority will be useful for TRS and our retired teachers in the long run, given the state of our financial markets, and the extent of our retirement systems’ exposure in them, there may not be any surpluses available for some time,” said Callegari.

On Sunday, the Houston Chronicle reported that the teacher retirement fund, valued at $104.9 billion on September 1, has undergone a $25 billion drop in market value. State law prohibits TRS from providing supplemental payments to retirees if the retirement fund is not fully funded.

“I understand that there are some concerns regarding the health of the teacher retirement fund, particularly with the volatile market that we are experiencing,” said Representative Callegari. “This bill does not authorize or require the Teacher Retirement System to spend money that it does not have. It merely gives the agency the flexibility it needs to better serve our teachers when the better markets return.”

The 81st Session of the Texas Legislature begins on Tuesday, January 13th, 2008 and will last for 140 days. Earlier in November, Callegari filed a legislative package to lower the residential home appraisal cap from ten percent to five.

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Growth of technology, media, combined with demand for information, driving future job growth in Valley

By HELEN ESCOBAR

Dr. Lawrence Vanston, president of Technology Futures, mapped out a future full of unlimited job possibilities in technology for attendees of South Texas College’s 2nd Annual IT Symposium in November.

“Convergence, the converging of technologies and applications, is driven by many factors, but in part by the demand for on-demand, 24/7 content from anywhere in the world,” said Vanston. “Content, as we think of it, went from being something physical like a magazine or book to being in an all-digital, electronic format. That has changed everything.”

Vanston also sees the possibility of a truly wireless world as a reality sooner rather than later.

“We are seeing the loss of traditional wired house lines drop exponentially; in fact we have lost about 40M lines in households across America in just eight short years since 2000,” said Vanston. “Add to that the fact that you have many new integrated applications hitting the market that combine wireless phone technology with multimedia and publishing access points and the need for wires, and the legacy technologies they support, will disappear within a matter of years. Also, there will be a role for new fiber optic-based systems providing high-definition TV video and very high-speed broadband at data rates 10 times as fast as today’s cable modems and DSL.”

What does this mean for job opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley?

“The sky is the limit because as new technologies are developed and we integrate them in our daily lives, both at work and at home, we need qualified technicians to set up these systems, as well as maintain them,” said Mario Reyna, STC division dean of business and technology. “But, despite the opportunities that are coming to fruition, we are still not preparing near the amount of qualified professionals to help the Valley make a smooth leap into the wireless world.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the year 2015, computer science and information technology-related positions will increase by 58 percent in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

“We need to see many more students capitalizing on this trend and looking into opportunities that will provide sound careers for the future,” added Reyna. “At STC, we offer students the chance to study computer science, information technology, convergent technology, multimedia, information security, networking, as well as variety of other technology skills to prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. Bottom line is that to be competitive in tomorrow’s job market, you must be building technology skills today. STC can help students step into this realm and be successful.”

Computer and information technology courses are currently being offered at all STC campuses, as well as online. For additional information contact Adolfo Lozano, chair of the Information Technology Program for STC, at 956-872-6175 or visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/business/.

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High expectations and strong support systems boost community college student success, UT survey says

Higher expectations and generous student support are essential for student success, according to findings from the 2008 Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) conducted by the Community College Leadership Program in the Department of Educational Administration in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

The report, which is released annually, presents data on community college students nationwide, from the percentage of students who work full-time while in school to the frequency with which they participate in study groups and how far they commute to reach the campus. Survey results present a detailed snapshot of students’ educational experiences, the challenges community colleges face and how colleges are responding to the numerous challenges.

Findings from the 2008 survey highlight the need for faculty members and student services staff to hold high expectations for student achievement and offer a comprehensive array of support services that will help ensure student success.

“No one rises to low expectations,” said Dr. Vincent Tinto, the Distinguished Professor of Higher Education in Syracuse University’s School of Education and a noted expert on college student retention.

Community colleges typically serve a much more diverse student population than four-year universities, and the CCSSE offers data depicting the multiple challenges confronted by many students. For example, almost two-thirds of community college students attend college part-time, 56 percent work more than 20 hours a week, 30 percent have children living with them, well over a third are first-generation college students and almost 30 percent come from families with incomes under $20,000 annually.

The CCSSE, which is based on research about effective educational practice, assesses student engagement through questions about the effort students invest in their studies, ways they interact with faculty and other students, degree of academic challenge they experience and the kinds of support they receive from their colleges. The 2008 report, titled High Expectations and High Support,incorporates data from more than 343,000 students from 585 colleges in 48 states.

Key findings of the CCSSE included the following:

Student Effort:

  • Seventy-one percent of students surveyed indicate their college encourages them to spend significant amounts of time studying, either “quite a bit” or “very much;” however, 67 percent of full-time students spend 10 or fewer hours preparing for class in an average week.
  • Twenty-four percent report that they always come to class prepared.
  • Academic Challenge:
  • About half of survey respondents report that they often or very often worked harder than they thought they could to meet an instructor’s standards; 11 percent said they never did so.
  • Twenty-nine percent of full-time students report that they have written four or fewer papers or reports of any length during the current school year.
  • Sixty-eight percent indicate that their exams are relatively to extremely challenging, while nine percent find them relatively to extremely easy.

Support for Learners:

• Fewer than half (45 percent) of community college students report that the college provides the financial support they need to afford their education. Further, when asked about factors that would be most likely to contribute to their dropping out of classes or leaving college, the same percentage cite “lack of finances.”

The 2008 survey included a special focus on student financial aid, using items jointly developed with the Congress-appointed Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. Of CCSSE respondents, only 56 percent of them reported having completed the standard application for federal financial aid. Forty-six percent of part-time students and 31 percent of full-time students reported receiving no financial aid of any kind. Sixteen percent were unaware of the financial aid process.

Using 2008 survey data, analysts concluded that community college students who are most engaged are:

  • Full-time students
  • Over the age of 24
  • Seeking professional credentials
  • Female
  • Black
  • International students
  • Financially dependent, using funds other than their own income or savings to pay for most of their tuition
  • Working fewer than 30 hours a week
  • Students who have completed 30 or more credit hours
  • Students who have taken developmental courses
  • Students who have taken study skills courses
  • Students who have participated in orientation
  • Students who have participated in learning communities

“As illustrated by a growing body of research and the data presented in this report, consistent, rigorous and explicit high expectations for students and institutions, coupled with timely, effective and inescapable student support, are necessary,” said Dr. Kay McClenney, CCSSE director. “And, as demonstrated by a growing number of colleges, both are possible. We salute those teachers, advisors, counselors, tutors and numerous others who are committed to making the possible real in the lives of students.”

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Student Government Association offers carpool option to save money and environment to UTPA community; meeting scheduled November 25

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA

The Student Government Association at The University of Texas-Pan American is offering students, faculty and staff the opportunity to save the Earth and gas money through its new and free ridesharing/carpool service via AlterNet Rides.

Members of the UTPA community are invited to attend an informational session, hosted by SGA, Tuesday, Nov. 25, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Student Union Commons, to hear how they can organize carpools to commute to campus through AlterNet Rides, a carpool/rideshare Web site that is currently being used by universities and colleges across the country. Higher education institutions in the state currently using AlterNet Rides include Texas A&M-Kingsville, The University of Texas-San Antonio, Texas State University, The University of Texas at Austin, and The University of Texas at El Paso. To sign up for the service, all that is required is a valid e-mail address.

According to the SGA Web site, this new service will connect UTPA student drivers and riders who need a ride to campus or who are trying to save gas money by sharing the cost with others. In addition to saving money, those who use the ride sharing service will also be helping alleviate traffic congestion on the roadways and around campus, and eliminate the use of some parking spaces.

To learn more about the ridesharing/carpool service via AlterNet Rides, visit the SGA Web site at http://www.utpa.edu/sga or call 956/381-2517.

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Mercado Delta to open for business December 6-7

The Delta Region Revitalization Corporation (DRRC) has announced that Mercado Delta will open for business on Saturday, December 6, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (same hours on Sunday, December 7).

The Mercado is located next to the Edcouch-Elsa High School Fine Arts Building on Mile 4 West (Yellow Jacket Drive) and North of State Highway 107 in Edcouch.

Mercado Delta is the result of the Delta Region strategic plan, which came as a result of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa’s (D-Mercedes) initiative to do a regional plan for economic growth. The Mercado is a unique, multi-purpose, open-air public and farmers market where entrepreneurs, farmers, artisans, and craftsmen can sell their goods and produce.

Fashioned after a Spanish-Style marketplace surrounding a central plaza, Mercado Delta will be the premier central location for economic and tourist activity in the Delta Region.

Highlights of the Mercado Delta design include a water feature running through the middle of the plaza and two bell towers at the entrance featuring Mexican bells donated by the Honorable Eugenio Hernández Flores, Governor of the Mexican State of Tamaulipas.

The Mercado features four markets: fixed vendors, outdoor market, farmers market and food vendors. The outdoor market is where local entrepreneurs, craftsmen, artisans, and importers can sell their goods and services.

Arts and crafts, jewelry, Christmas wreaths, floral arrangements, paintings, sculptures, and pottery are some of the goods and products that will be sold at the Mercado Delta. Expected fixed vendors are restaurants and other shops.

Vendor applications are currently being accepted. The fee for becoming a vendor is $25 per day with a 10 x 10 tent and table provided, or $15 if the vendor provides a Mercado-approved tent. Parking is free and hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When speaking about the Mercado, Hinojosa said, “This historic project reflects the hard work of so many community members and sends a powerful example of what we can accomplish when we work together to improve the future of our region. The Delta Mercado will lead to a boom in development, more jobs, and increased overall opportunity so that this community can grow and prosper for years to come. Valley residents will have a very attractive venue to sell their arts, crafts and other goods and improve their business.”

For more information on becoming a vendor, feel free to contact Dr. Gilbert Cárdenas at (956) 647 – 9504 or visit our website at  http://www.mercadodelta.com

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AG Abbott releases report showing state laws need strengthening to deal with human trafficking

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, on Monday, November 17, released the Office of the Attorney General’s (OAG) 2008 Human Trafficking Report.

Human trafficking is the recruitment, harboring, transporting or obtaining of a person for labor or services for the purpose of subjecting victims to involuntary servitude, slavery or forced commercial sex acts.

The legislatively-mandated study details the impact of human trafficking on the state. It examines how legislative changes could reduce human trafficking and provide better services for victims.

“Human trafficking is a horrific crime that deprives its victims of basic human rights,” Abbott said. “Sadly, human trafficking victims are coerced into modern day slave labor and forced prostitution rings. The state of Texas must continue to focus on preventing human trafficking and protecting its victims.”

The U.S. Department of State estimates that between 14,500 and 17,500 are trafficked into the U.S. from Asia, Central and South America, and Eastern Europe, and many more are trafficked domestically within the United States each year,” Abbott said. “Additionally, about one in five people trafficked have been in Texas. Houston and El Paso are included among the U.S. Department of Justice’s ‘most intense trafficking jurisdictions in the country’.”

Van de Putte added, “I truly believe that we are not defenseless in the struggle to end the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults, and this is why I took a stand for those caught in the ugly web of modern day slavery. In the upcoming legislative session, I intend to further advance our efforts to eliminate human trafficking in Texas.”

The OAG’s 57-page report, The Texas Response to Human Trafficking, offers 21 recommendations that are intended to reduce human trafficking and improve services to victims. These recommendations include possible statutory changes and improved outreach efforts that would better educate law enforcement personnel about identifying human trafficking.

Later on Monday, November 17, Van de Putte convened a roundtable discussion on human trafficking. The discussion focused on prevention, identification, investigation and prosecution of human trafficking. Panelists scheduled to participate included: Eric Nichols, Deputy Attorney General for Criminal Justice; Denise Donnely; Dr. Noel Busch, The University of Texas at Austin; Mandi Kimball, Children at Risk; Sgt. Chris Burchell, Bexar County Sheriff’s Department; Steph Weber, Houston Rescue and Restore Coalition; and Melissa Moreno, Catholic Charities.

The report Abbott released on November 17 satisfies the requirements of Senate Bill 11 passed in the 80th Legislature, he said.

The report is available online at:

http://www.oag.state.tx.us/AG_Publications/pdfs/human_trafficking.pdf.

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Former TxDOT administrator sentenced to 60 months for role in bribery scheme

The former District Maintenance Administrator of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) was sentenced to prison on Thursday, November 20, for soliciting and accepting bribes to award highway contracts or certify completion of highway projects, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced.

Cresenciano “Chano” Falcón, 56, of Edinburg, was sentenced by United States District Judge Randy Crane. Noting he intended the imposed sentence to send a message, Crane sentenced Falcon to 60 months in federal prison without parole to be followed by a three-year-term of supervised release.

Falcón pleaded guilty in May 2008 admitting to knowingly and corruptly accepting $2,000 in U.S. currency from an informant November 13, 2007, intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with a TxDOT “sweeping contract,” valued at more than $5,000. The transaction – a violation of Title 18, U.S.C. Section 666  – was captured on audio and video tape. The court has released Falcón on bond for a period of two weeks ordering him to surrender to federal authorities in two weeks to begin serving his five-year prison term.

Two TxDOT highway inspectors, Ray Llanes, 50, of San Benito, and Noé Beltrán, 42, of San Juan, each of whom pleaded guilty on May 30, 2008, admitting to having accepted $200 in U.S. currency January 15, 2008, from an informant intending to be influenced and rewarded in connection with a TxDOT “sweeping contract,” valued at more than $5000, are set to be sentenced on Dec 4, 2008.

Both men remain free on bond pending their sentencing hearing.

The investigation conducted by the FBI with the assistance and cooperation of the Texas Rangers was initiated after a private sweeping contractor, unable to meet the payoffs demanded and make a profit, reported paying bribes to TxDOT District Maintenance Administrator Falcón to get “sweeping” projects/contracts and being forced to pay TxDOT inspectors Llanes and  Beltran money to certify that the work was completed properly.

The prosecution is the result of an investigation conducted by the McAllen office of the FBI and the Texas Rangers. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney James McAlister.

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Transition to nodal power market lags behind schedule, according to testimony before Senate panel

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Senators were dismayed by reports that a program to increase efficiency in power transmission and reduce energy costs is running behind schedule and over budget.

Bob Kahn, CEO of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), on Tuesday, November 18, testified before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, saying the project to convert from a zonal to a nodal model of distribution is spending $12 million a month with no determined end date.

The program was intended to streamline delivery of utility services by January 1, 2009, but the actual end date could stretch into 2010.

When the project was approved in 2003, a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of the project showed a $6 billion benefit to the utilities market, at a cost of about $260 million. As of today, the project has spent $295 million, according to Kahn, and ERCOT has ordered another CBA, this time due in February or March of next year, to gauge cost savings under the new timeline and budget.

Public Utilities Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman testified that the project will save rate payers money if it opens in the near future, but at some point, it may not be worth the savings.

“If we can get it open, I’m confident that it will be beneficial. Now, we’re doing the CBA to reassure us that the benefits to the market over the next 10 to 12 yrs are overwhelmingly favorable. But the key is, we’ve got to get it open, we’ve got to complete the project,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is we seem to be a long way away from completing, and at some point were spending too much money for a project that going to return a certain amount of benefit.”

Kahn attributed the delays to software glitches, hardware defects, as well as the general complexity of the contract. He also said that the vendors working on this project have not made it a top priority. Because the contracts signed with the vendors at the inception on the project are open ended, with no concrete deadline, committee chairman Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay,  wondered if that was a major contributor to the delay.

“If there’s an open ended contract, and I’m a vendor, and I know I can bleed this forever, what incentive do I have to complete the project,” asked Fraser. “I’m a little concerned about the obligation of the vendor to complete the project knowing its an open ended contract.” Kahn told the committee that many of the contracts do have milestone requirements, and that the contracts have been renegotiated to more favorable terms for the state.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, looked back to when this project was first proposed. She remembers that lawmakers were reticent to move forward, but utility and electricity industry officials assured the Legislature it was in the best interest of the state.

“This committee was not friendly toward that at the beginning, nor was the legislature. We were very uncomfortable. It was at the repeated requests of our market participants and of our PUC chairmen and commissioners that convinced the legislature that this nodal market was very beneficial and was the way to go,” she said.

Now the future of the project likely rests on the outcome of the new cost benefit analysis, due early next year.

In addition to Fraser and Van de Putte, other members of the Business and Commerce Committee are Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington; Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin; Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler; Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.

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