Networking in 'Español'
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 9, 2005

Hispanic chamber links Latino business owners

Yvonne Wingett

Mexican candy shops like Juanita Espinoza's La Familia Imports in south-central Phoenix are popping up all over Arizona.

The rows of imported sweet and sour lollipops and Duvalín frosting, the bilingual signs and Espinoza's singsong Spanish lure thousands of dollars to her cash register.

Carnicerías, mortgage centers, joyerías and carwashes are opening in storefronts and strip malls, connecting Latinos to products and people of their homelands and changing the palates of native Arizonans.

For the first time, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is connecting these Latino business owners with each other. The chamber last month launched Contactos en Español, a networking event for entrepreneurs who speak mostly Spanish. More than 250 business owners from across the Valley turned out for the mixer at La Corona Ranch, 29th Avenue and Baseline Road.

"It was very interesting to learn more about how you can help other people in your community," said Espinoza, 50, who runs the dulcería near Central Avenue and Broadway Road. "And talk to other people who have businesses to see how they can progress."

The effort to pull together the businesses is unprecedented, chamber officials said, and is overdue. Of the estimated 58,000 Hispanic-owned businesses across the state, about 11,000 are owned and operated by Spanish-dominant proprietors, they said.

They range from mariscos, bakeries, tire shops, art galleries, taxi companies, public relations and marketing firms, boxing clubs, taxi businesses and discotecas. Even La Corona Ranch, run by General Manager Alex Corona, which hosts many Spanish language events and other culturally significant programs.

The businesses fill a cultural need but also provide jobs to hundreds and generate millions of dollars in state tax revenue.

"They're getting to a point right now where they really do need help," said Harry Garewal, president and CEO of the chamber. "They need to understand how to protect their own assets. They need a CPA, someone who can help them organize at a corporate structure . . . and protect themselves, their personal assets and their business assets. All it takes is one fall in your restaurant and someone to file an injury suit against you and you could lose everything you've worked for your entire life."

Espinoza and others want to learn more about the basics of doing business in the United States: small-business loans, health insurance, workers' compensation and developing long-term business plans.

The chamber plans on hosting workshops for Spanish-speaking business owners over the next five months on developing corporations, bookkeeping vs. CPAs, how to become certified to do business at the state, local and federal levels, how to write business plans, get loans and grow businesses, and bundling finances to become competitive for loans.

Improving training and increasing marketing efforts will advance entrepreneurship among Hispanics, said chamber board member Chris Hernandez, president of Hernandez Companies Inc. and a Laveen resident.

It could eventually benefit people like Maribel Bueno, 26, who dreams of one day opening a bilingual Latino coffee shop where students would do homework and grandparents would read the newspaper. The mixer put her in touch with people who can guide her through the pitfalls and frustrations of opening a small business. For now, she's an administrative assistant for Los Olivos Car Wash at Third Street and McDowell Road and is working to expand the business.

"(At Contactos), you get the knowledge of where to go for help," said Bueno, a native of Mexico City who now lives near 35th Avenue and McDowell Road. "It was interesting to see the people who were there that don't speak English, and they were there with dreams of starting a business. We come here to start a dream because we don't have the opportunities in our country."