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Business Perks Up For Hispanic Entrepreneurs

Organizers of an annual expo in Orlando cited a boom in companies and jobs.

By Richard Burnett | Sentinel Staff Writer

April 3, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

Vivian Oviedo sees the economic recovery in her home-decor company -- business is up 20 percent from last year. Gilberto Aviles sees it at the college campus where he is a counselor -- enrollment is up 100 percent.

And for Fanny Tello, recovery means she can hire workers to tend her Altamonte Springs artwork shop while she goes on sales trips.

Their experiences are examples of an economic recovery in the region's Hispanic community. It was underscored at the latest edition of metro Orlando's annual Hispanic Business Expo, which opened Friday at the Orlando Expo Centre downtown.

The two-day event, which concludes today, drew more than 240 companies large and small, the biggest turnout since the first expo in 1993.

Attendance is expected to reach 8,000, also a record. The Orlando office of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring the event.

Attendees on Friday found a packed house and buoyant atmosphere, including a mariachi band, colorful booth displays, live radio broadcasts, food samplers and prize drawings.

Expo organizers said business is good for Hispanic entrepreneurs.

The organizers cited Central Florida's burgeoning Hispanic population, the increase in the number of new small businesses, the expansion of existing ones and the arrival of companies from outside the area.

Many businesses exhibiting at the show said they had job openings to fill. Others reported double-digit increases in sales compared with last year.

"We're very fortunate that Orlando is growing so fast, and we're still seeing a housing boom," said Oviedo, owner of Bilma's Interiors in Orlando.

"People really want to put a lot of money into their home, and our business is even better than last year," Oviedo said.

Tello said she's hiring a couple of people to manage her business, South American Decorative Imports, while she goes on the road.

"I'm going to be doing art shows at some of the big hotels," Tello said, surrounded by a display of Peruvian paintings and jewelry.

"I think that is going to open up some great business opportunities for me," she said.

Although Hispanic-owned small businesses continue to open here, established businesses are also moving into the region, trade-show officials said.

Those businesses include educational institutions, financial-service companies, fast-food chains and media companies.

In the past year, some of the new entrants include:

  • Ana G. Mendez University of Puerto Rico, which opened an Orlando campus focusing on continuing adult education. After six months, it has about 400 students and 50 employees. "We did a lot of marketing research in this area, and we knew there would be a demand for the kind of education programs we provide," said Gilberto Aviles, a counselor at the Mendez campus.
  • El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper, which began publishing a five-day-a-week Orlando edition. The Orlando edition has about 40 employees and reports a daily circulation of 25,000.

  • The Hispanic Office of Local Assistance, or HOLA, which was established as an information-and-referral service for individuals and businesses. It is a partnership of the Latino Leadership and the city of Orlando.

Mayor Buddy Dyer, who attended the expo's opening day, said Hispanic business growth has had a dramatic effect on the region's economy.

"When you look at the population growth, which has been tremendous, combined with the new business activity, the total economic impact of the Hispanic community is now more than $1 billion annually," he said.

For the most part, the economic effects are generated by small businesses, not large enterprises, said Tico Perez, a business consultant and law partner in the Orlando office of Baker & Hostetler. But an increasing number of Hispanic entrepreneurs are getting outside financial help, he said.

"You'll see a lot of self-financed, service-industry companies here today," Perez said.

"But you'll also see the large players such as SunTrust, Wachovia and Bank of America, who are now marketing themselves to Hispanics," he said. "That has helped open the sources of capital to a lot of Hispanic business owners. And the barriers to access are breaking down."

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