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Brandon chamber attends to Hispanic business scene

BRANDON — Whether it's a bakery selling mango and guava pastries, a sporting goods store called Deportes, or a Latin deli offering yucca and pork, Hispanic businesses are popping up all over eastern Hillsborough.

Now the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce wants to both capture and nurture that growing sector as well as teach its current members and general businesses how to tap coveted Hispanic customers.

The chamber launched the initiative in February with a focus group made up of first-generation immigrants, Hispanics new to Brandon from other parts of the country, and second-generation Hispanics who prefer English.

The group included business owners, bank managers and teachers, said Ivette Mayo, a Brandon chamber member who helped plan the focus group and who runs her own cultural consultation business.

"They left their countries where they were business people, and now they are here adding to the economic development growth of Brandon," said Mayo, who started her business in the Brandon and Riverview area two years ago.

"A lot of them have found that in this community, it was very easy to come in, and they have been embraced," she said. "They are not only opening doors; they are thriving."

Still, the focus group members wanted more information and help with services such as promotion and marketing, she said.

With the results from the focus group, the chamber planned four workshops after joining with the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund.The first, on starting a new business, was held Thursday. The next one, about how to prepare for a business loan, will be held Aug. 27, chamber president Tammy Bracewell said. The workshops, along with business counseling sessions, are free.

"We really thought we'd come into this and they'd say they need to have everything in Spanish, but they really didn't," Bracewell said. "Most of them speak English really well, but there were some businesses who still need to have some things in Spanish."

For that reason, the chamber is translating its site and some of its materials. Chamber chairman Marshall Rainey made the Hispanic initiative a priority for this year, Bracewell said.

"If you look at the demographics for our area, they've definitely changed," Bracewell said. "We realized in our leadership team that this was something we needed to look at."

• • •

The trend is not just local.

A Census Bureau report released two years ago showed that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses was growing at three times the national rate for all companies. On the flip side, some predictions put the Hispanic consumer market at $1.5-trillion in the next decade.

A handful of colleges around the country are starting to respond to corporations' desire to reach Hispanic consumers.

Florida State University offers a master's degree in integrated marketing with a focus on Hispanic marketing, as well as an undergraduate minor and graduate certificate on the topic.

To that end, the chamber is doing more than help Hispanic business owners — something also offered by other Puerto Rican, Caribbean and Hispanic chamber groups in the Tampa area.

The second component of its initiative involves education workshops for general businesses trying to reach the Hispanic market. It's called "Infusion: Connecting with Hispanic Consumers." The two-day series, on June 20 and 27, will focus on marketing to Hispanics. Both sessions cost a combined $10, require a reservation and will be held at the Hillsborough Community College Brandon campus from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

"This will teach traditional businesses how to better reach Hispanics," said Laura Simpson, the chamber's vice president of business and community development. "It's a huge economic stimulus for them. The market is there, and the market is growing at a time when our businesses are looking for new markets to tap into."

Some of the ground to cover includes the diversity among Hispanic cultures, including the differences between Colombians, Cubans and Puerto Ricans.

There are longtime residents and new arrivals — some from the Caribbean, others from Mexico and South America. There are older generations that might be more comfortable with Spanish vs. the younger, tech-savvy Hispanics who prefer English.

There are some things in common, and the series will touch on the importance of family and forming relationships in business dealings with Hispanics, grass roots marketing and word-of-mouth referrals, chamber leaders said.

The point is to integrate business for everyone in the community, Simpson said.

"Whether they are new entrepreneurs or seasoned professionals, we want to be a total resource," she said.

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or 661-2441.

>>FAST FACTS

Chamber doings

To learn more about the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce or reserve a spot for workshops, go to brandonchamber.com or call Laura Simpson at

689-1221.

Brandon chamber attends to Hispanic business scene 06/12/08 [Last modified: Friday, June 13, 2008 3:52pm]
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