Latino business alliance helps entrepreneurs find success

By Elida S. Perez

The Latino Business Alliance is a relatively small organization making strides to help the Hispanic business community succeed and grow in the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Jose Gonzalez, board president and one of the LBA founders, has been in Salem for 16 years.

Before he went into business for himself, he worked at a local restaurant.

That changed when his son fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital.

“Unfortunately I couldn’t leave (work) to see him, I worried because he once got so sick he lost consciousness and I had to perform CPR to get him breathing again,” Gonzalez said. “That was the day I realized I needed to have more control of my life.”

In 1993 he started Tu Casa Real Estate and has been in the business ever since.

Gonzalez now helps other entrepreneurs realize their goals through the alliance.

The Statesman Journal asked Gonzalez about the alliance and what he has seen within the Latino business community in the Mid-Willamette Valley.

Question: How did you begin to make connections with other Latino business owners?

Answer: Primarily from my past real estate clients. They would come ask questions about their lease, liquor license applications, finding commercial space, etcetera. Word of mouth really is what brought me here.

Q: When did the Latino Business Alliance form?

A: In 2008, several of us Latino professionals came together to begin establishing trusting working relationships. Our intention was not to have a formal group, it just evolved to this. We all saw the need to know other professionals we could refer friends, family, clients to and know they would be taken care of.

Q: Why did you feel there was a need for such an organization?

A: Two primary reasons. One is as the Latino community evolves, their business and professional needs grow. Second, we saw time and time again how the Latino community was being taken advantage of by other Latino professionals.

Q: What sorts of challenges do Latino entrepreneurs face?

A: A general understanding of what having a business means. It’s great they have a particular talent, but that is not all that is needed to have a sustainable business.

Q: What do you think is the biggest need in the Latino business community?

A: Setting a goal for their business. Are they doing it to supplement their income only, potentially sell the business in the future, or grow it to the point where they want to step back and receive passive income? If they can answer this, it makes it so much easier to help them work toward it. Opening a business to many is a knee jerk, emotional reaction; and this leads to trouble down the road.

Q: What does your organization do to help or advance Latino businesses?

A: The first thing is to establish and strengthen these professional relationships. Once we have built trust, it opens the door to great conversations which help us know what areas we should focus on. We then bring in the appropriate professionals to educate them in a group setting or on an individual basis. Main areas of focus are business financing, tax, accounting, legal and marketing.

Q: Are your services exclusive to Latinos?

A: No, and we understand why we receive this question. All of our meetings and marketing pieces are in both English and Spanish. We celebrate diversity at every gathering, and I know everyone feels welcome. It’s just like Mexican restaurants, they have a focus and a niche, but are open to the whole community.

Q: How many Latino businesses are there in the Mid-Willamette Valley?

A: A workforce analyst for the state of Oregon provided us a report which states there are more than 1,700 Latino-owned businesses in the Salem MSA (metropolitan statistical area).

Q: Is that number on the rise?

A: According to them, yes. I haven’t seen the numbers but I’m sure Oregon is seeing the same growth as we see nationwide. According to one study, the number of Latino-owned businesses doubled in the last 10 years.

Q: Do Latino businesses tend to lean toward one industry over the other from what you have seen?

A: Initially yes, we did see a lot of restaurants, markets, landscaping and construction companies being opened. Now, we see staffing companies, marketing/design, accountants and precious metals companies being run by local Latinos.

Q: Has the Latino Business Alliance grown much since its inception?

A: Yes, at the beginning it was only six of us. Now, our network includes leaders from 50 plus organizations/businesses. Our first networking meeting was four of us, now we are honored to have presentations from Salem Mayor Anna Peterson, governor’s office director Cheryl Myers, Kiva Zip Micro Loan representatives, etc.

Q: What plans do you all have for the future of the alliance?

A: Currently, we are all volunteer. Our goal is to be able to hire our first employee early next year and be able to expand our network. We receive invitations to collaborate from many local groups and want to be able to make sure we compliment, not replace, the great work everyone is doing.

esperez@StatesmanJournal. com or (503) 399-6740 or on Twitter @ElidaSPerezSJ

Originally published at Statesman Journal.