Congressman Calvin Dooley will lead a delegation of local, state and federal officials, bankers and dignitaries — including Al Smith, president of the Black Farmers Association — at the grand opening of the USDA National Center for Excellence and Multi-Ethnic Small Farm and Community Development on Tuesday, March 30 from 4 – 7 p.m.

Smith is also chairperson of the Multi-Ethnic Small Farm and Community Development board of directors.

They will be joined by Victor Vasquez of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Mike Reyna of the Farm Credit Administration, both from Washington D.C.; Tillman Carr of the National Bankers Association in Spokane Washington; Luis Sanchez of Washington Mutual Bank in Stockton; Jeff Vonk, Celeste Cantu and Val Dolcini, all of the USDA in Davis; and, Dr. John D. Welty, president of California State University, Fresno.

The center, designed to assist rural businesses through an economic development program USDA granted last fall to Fresno State, will officially open its doors at the University of California Center, 550 E. Shaw. The grand opening will include a ribbon cutting by the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a reception sponsored by Washington Mutual Bank.

The National Center for Excellence, one of only five in the nation, was created from a USDA grant to Fresno State’s School of Education and Human Development last fall. The grant establishes a rural small business institute that also involves the Sid Craig School of Business.

Gloria Palacios, president of the Multi-Ethnic Small Farm and Community Development program, said the center provides outreach services designed to help underserved small farmers and businesses achieve economic self-sufficiency through coordinated public and private investment.

“To accomplish this vision, the Multi-Ethnic Center has developed services in four areas: technical assistance, access to capital, marketing and outreach, and farmland acquisition,” said Palacios, who will deliver the closing remarks.

For more information, contact Vicente Orduno, Jr., chief executive officer, at (559) 225-1194 or NCE director Dr. Robert Segura, Fresno State education professor, at 278-0318.