Three El Paso companies and the entrepreneurs who lead them were honored last week at a breakfast hosted by the Hub of Human Innovation.
What made this event special is that all three companies are headed by longtime El Pasoans who grew their businesses organically through hard work, creativity and especially innovation.
So often when we think about job growth in El Paso we tend to think about recruiting outside companies. Certainly that is the lowest-hanging fruit with the promise of big returns quickly.
As a result much less is done to encourage local enterprises to be all that they can become. And that is why this Hub breakfast was at once both unique and important.
The honorees are from the area, went away to school or other careers, came back to El Paso, took over or launched modest businesses and wound up growing those entities to extraordinary proportions. See story and photos on page 15A.
As Hub President Joe Wardy put it: “The purpose of this event is to recognize innovation.” But the breakfast also served to highlight the work that Hub is doing in encouraging, assisting and mentoring local entrepreneurs.
“If you have a dream, we’re here to help,” said Wardy, who explained that the Hub was created “as a landing zone” to foster more local successes like those honored at the breakfast.
One of those honored was 33-year-old Lane Gaddy, a fourth generation El Pasoan who took over W Silver Recycling in 2005. At that time the company had 25 employees. It now has 220 employees with eight operations in two countries, plus a litany of other business interests.
That would include developing three historic buildings in Downtown El Paso. In fact on Tuesday Gaddy left the breakfast and was successful in securing City Council approval for a $2.2-million incentive package to help develop the historic Banner Building at the corner of Mesa and Mills. His other Downtown historic building projects include the Bassett Tower and the Martin Building.
“Someday the next generation will be able to look at Downtown and never see the challenges and adversity it took to make it work,” he said. “They will only see the success of everyone’s efforts and believe that it could have never been any other way.”
Rudy Valdes, speaking on behalf of his partners Octavio Gomez and Nick Salgado of the Pan y Agua restaurateur group, recounted how his company began with the Crave Kitchen and Bar.
“Nobody thought it would work,” he said, “since we only had four or five tables.” Yet the business did well enough, and the partners worked well enough together, that they were able to follow with The Garden restaurant, which was tops in city liquor sales for three years in a row. The group now has 10 restaurant/bars in El Paso.
“I can’t find the moment when innovation happened. It’s just that we tried to think every moment, ‘Why not?’” Valdes said.
Brad Kuykendall, CEO of Western Technical College, is a fourth generation El Pasoan. Since Western was launched as a welding trade school in 1970, it’s become a comprehensive tech college with two modern facilities and 13 programs of study, including refrigeration, HVAC, auto and diesel mechanics, and electronic and medical technology.
The school has graduated more than 20,000 students since 1970 and students often have job offers even before they graduate.
Kuykendall credits the success of the school with the owners’ ability to harvest feedback from employers and execute on their curriculum needs.
“Those who survive are those best able to adapt to circumstances,” he said.
Like the other awardees, he also said that success comes from “rolling up your sleeves, getting to work and making life better for future generations.”
Quoting Dr. Seuss, and only a little tongue in cheek, he added, “You have to be odd to be No. 1.”