Alex Meade has a specific vision in mind for Mission. By drawing on inspiration from locations like Austin and Washington D.C., he plans to change the trajectory of the city.
What was once K-Mart located next to city hall, will now be the CEED – Center for Education and Economic Development. It’s a one-stop shop for the Mission Economic Development Corporation’s Ruby Red Ventures, Code the Town and Enginuity programs.
Ruby Red is for those who want to create their own startup. In December, locals Jennifer and Sam Shipp were featured on Good Morning America for an invention that was assisted through the Ventures program.
Code the Town began in 2014 and was nationally recognized as a Bright Spot in Hispanic Education. More than 1,000 students learned how to program computers in a year’s time, and students developed more than 2,100 technology apps.
Enginuity connects elementary students with local employer Royal Technologies, where they are exposed to opportunities in engineering, design and manufacturing.
After four years of rolling out these initiatives, the Mission EDC will soon be able to house all their programs under one roof. But for Meade, the chief executive officer, this is just another step to reaching his goal.
“To kind of bring everything into perspective…what we’ve done here by linking entrepreneurship and STEM education, we’re trying to create a culture of creativity and an open-minded, hip, cool culture,” he said.
His ideas are based off of findings from economist Richard Florida, who states in his book “The Rise of the Creative Class,” that Millennials and Generation X move to specific locations not because of job opportunity, but because they liked the communities.
The MEDC has also been focusing on downtown to contribute to the culture of creativity. The organization invested in improving streetscapes, sidewalks and grants that allow for people to paint the facade.
Mission EDC also has grants for businesses that are in line with the creative theme such as a music store, book store, coffee shop, a specialty grocery store restaurant. The grant will pay rent for up to six months, so the owner can use the money on successfully running the business.
But Meade’s hope is that by disrupting the traditional economic model, Mission’s culture, employment and economic status will change.
“In the past, EDCs have focused on recruiting big companies. But in reality…the small businesses are really driving the economy,” Meade said. “We felt we needed to nurture that. So we created these programs. Without an educated workforce, how can we recruit companies?”
The CEED will not only act as a hub for the MEDC programs, but it will also be a place for anybody who wants to be in a more professional environment while utilizing wifi. However, there will be a membership fee of an amount that has yet to be determined.
Offices as well as less formal work spaces can be leased in the building. A computer lab will house the Code the Town participants, and Sylvan Learning Center, who teaches the curriculum, will also lease a space. The building plan also includes has a lecture hall, a production and sound room and a coffee shop with outdoor seating.
Meade said he believes the CEED’s impact is going to be larger than any company they would have recruited.
“Somebody has to plant that seed to start nurturing the engineers, to start bringing in the sciences, technology and engineering into the classrooms. That way, in 10 years we can say that we have 10,000 engineers,” Meade said. “If we don’t plant that seed, we’re never going to get there, which is the reason why we called it the Center for Education and Economic Development. Phonetically it spells ‘seed.’
Even though Mission EDC developed the specific programs that target education and entrepreneurship, Meade said he wants to inspire EDCs in other cities to take the model and improve it.
“If you can have McAllen focusing on computer science and Brownsville focusing on computer science or engineering then all of a sudden you have this region of more than a million people with a load of scientists and engineers,” Meade said. “Then we’re a force to reckoned with.”