KALAMAZOO — In response to the growing number of Hispanic businesses in southwest Michigan emerging from the region’s burgeoning Hispanic population, the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center has developed a business roundtable program to serve the Hispanic market.
“We’re bringing together Hispanic business owners and leaders and doing needs assessment with them,” said Lorie Wolfe, Region 11 director for the MI-SBTDC. “Hispanics are a growing community in Michigan. The research says towns that flourish need to develop diversity. And, this program might give us opportunities for exporting by actively involving Hispanics in the marketplace.”
Wolfe said there are nearly 900,000 Hispanics living in Southwest Michigan and 4 million statewide, but cultural and language barriers have kept Hispanic ventures largely detached from American business. This new collaboration hopes to change that.
Two months ago, Wolfe arranged for a “loaned professional” through a program of the American Association of Retired Persons, which provides professional support to nonprofits. The goal of the program is to enable these men and women to network and identify salaried positions through their AARP assignments.
Through the program, AARP arranged for Elsa Lopez to work 20 hours a week with the Hispanic business community in greater Kalamazoo through the Michigan SBTDC office. Lopez has a business degree from Davenport University, as well as degrees in computer development and programming.
“Hispanics are a salad bowl,” Lopez said. “Our ethnicity has grown and we define ourselves as Cuban, Colombian and Mexican. We have tremendous buying power. Hispanics generate some $580 billion yearly in revenue in the United States. By 2008, that number will top $1 trillion.”
Lopez said her job is to help Hispanic businessmen and women live their dreams. Some have had difficulty growing their businesses, and getting access to capital from traditional lending organizations. Much of that is the language barrier, she said. But others lack basic business skills.
Her job is to teach them the basics of running a business, such as where to go for specific services, how to pay self-employment taxes, and how to get the paperwork together for business loans.
“Hispanics need counseling and education in their own language to understand better,’’ she said. “They need to have a different overview of financial services. They need to understand like their American counterparts. Financial services and consumer goods are viewed much differently by Hispanics than Americans.”