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The State (Columbia, S.C.)
Hispanic Directory Attests To Growing Population
By BEN WERNER
13 September 2004
Luz Rodriguez-Arpan sits in an office dominated by Directorio de Negocios Hispanos de Carolina del Sur.
Thats the South Carolina Hispanic Business Directory, and it is everywhere.
Stacked in boxes nearly to the ceiling leaving just enough room for herself and a guest to sit, the guide looms over all else, including the photos of her native Puerto Rico and her son, Allejandro.
In a nearby conference room, Rodriguez-Arpan points to a map showing where the directories are heading this fall.
They are being sent to businesses, municipalities and individuals all over South Carolina by Rodriguez-Arpan, president and owner of Hispanic Connections. The directory the first statewide business guide available for Hispanics is packed with ads and listings from professionals and businesses catering to the needs of South Carolinas Hispanic community.
Yet even with 15,000 guides, Rodriguez-Arpan finds people amazed about how prevalent Spanish is in the state.
"When people in South Carolina think of minority, theyre thinking of only one minority," she said.
Hispanic Connections began in 2000 with a series of living room meetings with Rodriguez-Arpan, her husband, Jeffrey Arpan, and four friends.
Rodriguez-Arpan, 54, said their primary mission was connecting Hispanics with those of other cultures in South Carolina by providing recruitment, staff, translation, interpretation and marketing services to Hispanics and Hispanic events.
The company is small and for-profit. During the past few years, five of the co-founders have dropped out of the company or been bought out by Rodriguez-Arpan. She declined to release recent sales figures but said the S.C. Hispanic Business Directory was just part of the companys revenue stream.
Rodriguez-Arpan also acts as a consultant and runs training for companies trying to improve their relations with South Carolinas growing Hispanic population.
DRAWN TO COLUMBIA
Rodriguez-Arpan has lived in Columbia since 1986 but has ties here running deeper than her nearly two decades of residency.
Her family was stationed at Fort Jackson during part of her childhood. After her father retired from the Army, her parents chose Columbia as their home.
Rodriguez-Arpan moved to Columbia from Washington, D.C., partly because of a desire to be near her parents and because she found she had skills she could use in Columbia.
What she found were other Puerto Rican families who had landed in Columbia for similar reasons, and companies that were starting to value Spanish-speaking employees.
She initially worked for Colonial Life and Accident Insurance Co. as the liaison with the companys Spanish-speakingclients.
In 1989, she became an administrative assistant at USC. Eventually, she became administrator of the universitys Center for International Business and Education Research.
Nowadays, meeting Rodriguez-Arpan is considered key to becoming situated in Columbia, said Ivan Segura, program coordinator for S.C. Hispanic Outreach, a small nonprofit organization.
He said he remembered being told, "If you want to get to know the Hispanic community, you need to get to know her."
The business directory is a valuable resource for Segura, who can refer members of the Hispanic community to organizations that serve Spanish speakers, he said.
Groups such as Hispanic Outreach are finding their services in greater demand as new arrivals continue swelling the ranks of South Carolinas Hispanic population.
The 2000 Census put the number of Hispanics living in South Carolina at nearly 100,000. Rodriguez-Arpan, though, says the states Hispanic population now is at least three or four times higher than it was just four years ago.
Actual population numbers are hard to come by because the census misses many Hispanics here both legally and illegally.
But Rodriguez-Arpan estimates Greenvilles Hispanic population at about 18,000. Columbia, aided by Fort Jackson and the supply of service-industry jobs, has about 15,000 Hispanic residents, she said.
Although most Spanish speakers are concentrated near the states larger cities and along the coast near Hilton Head, Rodriguez-Arpan said rural communities also need the guide.
Rodriguez-Arpan has not been without her critics. Two years ago, Rebecca Gonzalez, part of those initial living room meetings that started Hispanic Connections, split from the group.
At the time, Gonzalez said she wanted to concentrate on more business-to-business relationships for Hispanics, not so much running festivals, which is what she said the company was doing then.
Gonzalez went on to found The Gonzalez Group.
Rodriguez-Arpan didnt say much publicly about Gonzalezs departure then, but now says its all "water under the bridge."
"Rebecca is a wonderful person and shes a very good friend," Rodriguez-Arpan said.
Gonzalez, whose consulting company now focuses on Hispanics in the business place, such as staffing, safety training and patient safety, said, "We have both evolved in our separate directions." Her company is listed in the directory.