Hispanic Festival panel calls for more relationships
The key word was “opportunity.”
It was a word spoken over and over at a panel discussion earlier this month that kicked off the Hispanic Festival, Grand Rapids’ longest-running cultural festival.
The panel, hosted by Eva Aquirre-Cooper of WOOD TV 8, consisted of Veronica Ramirez Garcia, executive director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Pancho Gonzalez, vice president and general manager of McDonald’s Michigan Region, Paola Gonzalez, executive assistant at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and Jared Rodriguez, president of the West Michigan Policy Forum.
The panel discussed both obstacles and stepping stones to economic growth in the Hispanic business community, a community that's rapidly growing.
“We recently (learned) that there are 11,000 Hispanic businesses here in Michigan, and about 45 percent of them are here in the West Michigan area,” said Paola Gonzalez. “We only have 250 (chamber) members, and we cover all West Michigan, so, obviously, there is a need for us to reach out to those other business owners and make sure they are aware of the resources that we offer.”
Garcia noted that the retail and food industries are strong in the Hispanic community, and the upcoming generation of entrepreneurs includes a large number of engineers and designers.
Garcia said that while these are growing industries, many of the first-generation Hispanic entrepreneurs are hitting a wall when looking for funding are unfamiliar with all the procedures and laws of running a business.
Sometimes, a language barrier can also be a problem, added Garcia.
Rodriguez said some of the growth hurdles can be overcome by relationship building and collaboration.
“The Hispanic community is a culture of building relationships, cultivating and keeping those relationships,” Rodriguez said. “One of the greatest barriers to access to capital is not having those relationships outside of our community.”
Rodriguez encouraged Hispanic business leaders to reach out to Governor Rick Snyder, a political leader who understands “economic gardening."
Rodriguez also encouraged the community to advocate policy to lawmakers and in Lansing.
“The voting block of the Hispanic and Latino community is growing at record numbers," Rodriguez said. "If you look at the influence it can hold, it’s significant."
"We have two state lawmakers of Latino descent," added Rodriguez. "That number is not reflective of the state increase, but clearly it does provide opportunity, opportunity to get involved.”