Holland Chamber Offers Bilingual Business Counseling

June 20, 2002
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HOLLAND — In a move designed to reach out to the growing Hispanic population and business community, the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) has begun offering bilingual counseling services at its new part-time office in Holland.

The new SBDC office, which opened last week in the Holland Area Chamber of Commerce offices, will initially employ a part-time bilingual business counselor to work with Hispanic entrepreneurs and business people seeking assistance. If needed, the SBDC will extend the bilingual service to its Grand Haven and Muskegon district offices.

“We’re trying to develop and see how much of a demand is out there,” SBDC Regional Director Nancy Boese said. “We want to help (Hispanic business owners) put together a viable business so they can be successful in the community they serve.”

The Michigan SBDC, headquartered at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman School of Business, provides free counseling in business ownership and management, low-cost training and market research, and serves as an advocate for small business.

An SBDC business counselor began holding regular office hours at the Holland Area Chamber on Oct. 12 and is available every Friday on an appointment basis. Rotating from satellite offices in Allendale, Grand Haven and Muskegon, counselors will increase hours as demand dictates, Boese said.

The SBDC for some time has wanted to add bilingual services to serve the growing Hispanic population in the region. The opportunity availed itself recently when a Spanish-speaking MBA student at Grand Valley contacted the SBDC for help on a project he was working on with the owners of Mercado in Grand Rapids.

The GVSU student turned out to be the “right person” the SBDC needed, Boese said.

“We’ve been looking for the right person to pull in. You need someone with the right education and passion,” Boese said.

The offering of bilingual services results from the growing ethnic minority population in Ottawa County, particularly in the Holland area, according to the 2000 Census.

Ethic minorities account for 10 percent of the total population in Ottawa County and more than a quarter of all residents in the city of Holland and neighboring Holland Township. The Hispanic population in Ottawa County grew 110 percent from 1990 to 2000, and 79 percent in the city of Holland.

That growth has increased demands for bilingual services, as well as Spanish and English language instruction, in the area.

In the Grand Haven area, The Chamber of Commerce is working with a Spanish instructor to teach Spanish to local firefighters and police officers. The initiative will spread to hospitals and medical facilities that want to have their personnel trained in Spanish, and eventually to the business community, said Nancy Manglos, training services manager for the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Haven, Spring Lake, Ferrysburg.

The Chamber also wants to arrange English courses for companies with Spanish-speaking employees, such as immigrants who’ve recently come to the area or migrant workers at the region’s nursery and agriculture industries.

“There’s a whole big thing we are working to develop. We’re just taking it one step at a time,” Manglos said.

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