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Hispanic Expo Comes Full Circle
By Sarah Hale
April 13, 2002
Power of persuasion.
(PHOTO: GEORGE SKENE/ORLANDO SENTINEL)
Growth of Hispanic-owned businesses
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, 1997 Economic Census
The annual Hispanic Business Expo may not have been the obvious place at which to introduce a traditional Native American practice as a networking tool for business owners, but that was part of the point being made.
Drawn to what was billed as a "procurement opportunity," about 100 business owners and corporate representatives sat in "talking circles" Friday at the Orlando Expo Centre and took turns holding a "talking stick" -- symbolized by a game-board timer -- as they introduced themselves and described their products, services or business needs.
"I came to sell our services," said P.J. Kitzler, a Century 21 manager who rents homes for corporate clients. "I felt if I got one good lead, it would be worth my time. I'm going home with two-dozen good leads."
The workshop will likely return next year, as the Hispanic Business Expo's organizers work to steer the annual show down a more educational, conferencelike path. The usual midway-style booths will remain, but attendees can expect more "procurement opportunities" as well as seminars and featured speakers.
The two-day networking event, which ends today, has become one of the region's top business events.
Diego Londono, the owner of Audio Fashion, an East Colonial Drive auto-accessory shop, didn't have one of the flashiest booths Friday, but he had one of the loudest -- and busiest.
Parked by his booth was a white Honda Accord, outfitted by his shop with two color TV screens and a DVD player. Jennifer Lopez videos played on the screens while her music blasted from the rear speakers.
"We're definitely getting a lot of attention," Londono said. "Even the other exhibitors are stopping by to see what we have."
Organizers said 233 businesses set up shop this year, ranging from large corporations such as Orlando-based Darden Restaurants Inc. to locally owned firms. The exhibitor total is up slightly from last year's 225. More than 7,000 people are expected to attend during both days.
The expo, now in its ninth year, has become a place where minority-owned companies can hook up with larger, mainstream corporations while also showcasing their services for potential customers. There are roughly 12,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in the region, in which Hispanics comprise about 16.5 percent of the population.
Early registration for the expo had been surprisingly strong given the recession and the economic slump that followed Sept. 11, said Ada Rodriguez, marketing and operations director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Although the lines to get into the expo weren't long Friday, Rodriguez said she was pleased with the turnout.
Scitec Nutrition, an Orlando-based health-supplement maker, decided to set up a booth this year in an attempt to expand its market.
"For us, this expo is about exposure," said Wendell Santiago, director of operations for the company, which is known mostly among bodybuilders. "We want people in our own back yards to know who we are."
Victoria Laney of Ocoee and her 82-year-old mother, Edna Laney, stopped by Santiago's booth to taste-test Scitec Nutrition's protein shakes.
"Here, Mom, if you drink this you'll look like those girls," Victoria Laney said, pointing to the buff-looking women passing out samples. Edna Laney happily gulped down a Dixie-cup's worth of the chocolate shake.