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New Latino Business Resource Director Sees Great Things for Hispanic Entrepreneurs

Carolina Hernandez

With a growing Latino business community in southeastern Pennsylvania, the Kutztown University Small Business Development Center conducted a national search earlier this year for the critical position of director of the Latino Business Resource Center (LBRC). Turns out, Kutztown had only to look to Bethlehem, where Carolina Martinez, a native of Columbia, was serving at the Community Action Development Corporation. 
In her new role, Martinez delivers bilingual consulting and education at the LBRC, recognized in 2007 and 2008 by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Administration as a model for the nation.

Keystone Edge (KE): How does your personal story impact your approach to economic development?
Carolina Martinez (CM): I was born and raised in Colombia where I received my Bachelor of Industrial Engineering in 2003 in Bogota  and my MBA in International Business, also in Colombia. Family projects brought me to the Lehigh Valley almost four years ago.
Besides my first working experience, I have always worked with nonprofits and educational institutes focusing on helping different vulnerable populations and small business to start or improve their businesses. I decided to focus my work in supporting entrepreneurs to transform their dreams into reality. 
KE: How critical is the Latino community to economic growth in southeastern Pennsylvania? What is the potential? What are the biggest challenges facing Latino business owners and prospective entrepreneurs in the region?
CM: The Latino community is vital to the economic growth of this area. If we think that, for example, 23% of the businesses in Reading are owned by a Latino and more than half of the population is of Hispanic origins or that the Latino population in the South of Bethlehem is 75%, and we connect that with the natural entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes them, the natural path is to support new Latino businesses.
However, we do have big challenges. For instance, we need to overcome a technological breach with other businesses. In general, the Latino community has not focused its efforts in keeping up with the online tools they need to market their business and to keep their business organized. This is one of our main focuses in the midterm. A small business should be capable of connecting with different clients and suppliers in different locations within the United States or outside, or just keeping their records in an adequate manner. 
We also need to work more in the planning process of their business. They can be really good in the core of their business, but they also need to understand how to get the proper permits, how much money they need to start, who is their client and how to price their products, among other important topics.
KE: What are a few of the best examples of successful Latino-owned small businesses in the region? And who are a few of the up-and-comers?
CM: Fortunately, we are witnessing more and more successful Latino-owned companies in the region. One example would be LinkTech, Inc. This structured cabling system provider opened its doors more than 11 years ago and is growing and expanding in the west Reading area. 
We can also mention Senda Auto Sales, which is expanding and opened a tire center a few months ago or Mi Casa es su Casa, a Latino restaurant in downtown Reading. In the up-and-comers, we can mention Sofrito, a Latin-inspired gastro pub, and Milan Consulting Group, a firm that offers architectural/civil drawings to meet local government codes and ordinances.
KE: What are the core services that you provide at the Kutztown SBDC's LBRC? What makes the LBRC a national model and how do you expect to build on that success?
CM: The LBRC is the first bilingual business program within the SBDC network, providing our consulting services in English and Spanish. The eight-week business class is offered in Spanish, letting them really understand important concepts and tools to manage successfully their own business. 
In addition, we have one-on-one consulting services and online learning. The SBDC has more than 90 online classes available 24/7 and 24 of these are in Spanish. The participants are able to access them any time from any computer and keep working on relevant topics.
We are going to keep working to improve these services and we will also include an entrepreneurial development program. We want to keep offering services to the businesses after they take the class and are running their business. We have found that once they open their business they have more questions and feel more isolated and we want to tell them that the LBRC is here to help them in any stage of their venture.  The LBRC will offer seminars in Spanish about relevant topics such as QuickBooks, how to hire and business model generation, among others. 
Anyone trying or dreaming about opening his or her own business should contact us. The LBRC exists to serve Latino entrepreneurs and to provide them with the direction and tools they need to succeed. They can always check our website and use our services free of charge. 

ELISE VIDER is Innovation & Jobs News Editor for Keystone Edge. Send feedabck here.
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