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Group aims to help Latino businesses get started
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Norma Hernández, president of the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce, mingles with guests on Thursday, May 17, 2018, during a networking event at Playa Azul. The chamber partnered with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to help unite the Latino business community. - photo by David Barnes
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Daniel Figueredo, center right, listens to his son Carlos, right, on Thursday, May 17, 2018, at an event organized by the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce. The chamber partnered with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to help unite the Latino business community. - photo by David Barnes

If nothing else, Carlos Figueredo is certain of one thing: He wants to be his own boss.

“I knew college was not going to be for me,” he said. “But I didn’t want to be an employee all my life.”

Owning a business is in the family DNA. His father, Daniel Figueredo, said he dabbles in a “little bit of everything,” from real estate to stocks to car repair.

So Carlos’ dream to open a health-inspired smoothie shop “with a twist” might be preordained, but he could use a little help along the way.

Starting a business from the ground up with no formal education is a challenge, to say the least, and resources can be slim for Latinos unfamiliar with the many responsibilities that come with it.

That’s where Norma Hernandez hopes the Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce can help.

Launched last fall, the chamber held its first joint networking session with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center on Thursday, May 17, at Playa Azul on Atlanta Highway in Gainesville.

The groups hope to tap an established and still growing corridor of Latino-owned businesses and residential neighborhoods here by educating them on financial opportunities to start and grow a company. 

“There is a big need ... we want to unite the Latino business community,” said Hernandez, the chamber president. “Nobody knew this existed.”

Hernandez, who has worked in accounting, said many prospective business owners are unaware of the costs and regulations they must contend with, such as licensing fees or how to properly collect and file taxes.

Hernandez said the chamber is already working with about 50 businesses, with plans to expand its scope across the Northeast Georgia region by developing a long-term membership roll.

Allan Adams, the state director for the UGA Small Business Development Center, said its Gainesville branch had to be restaffed and rebuilt to better serve the growing Latino business sector in Hall County.

“We’re playing a little bit of catch-up,” he added.

The SBDC can assist, for example, in educating business owners about what resources are available to them, such as financial loans.

The group typically works with businesses that have 50 or fewer employees where the owner is the principal operator, Adams said, those businesses that are growing and “know their product and service well, but not necessarily their service area.”

Hernandez said the chamber’s mission is largely to unite local Latino businesses for mutual support and education. 

“In our culture, we share,” Hernandez said, “but for some reason here in America, you go your way and I go mine.”

Evelio Miranda, owner of El Dorado Taxi in Gainesville, is looking to grow his business. He has 20 cars in his fleet at this time, and he said the chamber provides an opportunity to connect with other businesses and a way to meet this goal.

Bruce Cutler, the Gainesville area director for the SBDC, said holding a joint networking event would help establish ties with the newly formed chamber.

“We’re here to serve everybody,” Cutler said. “We wanted to make sure we were doing some outreach here … the thing people most lack is information.”

Mario Tenorio, a morning show host for 101.9 FM, which broadcasts to a Latino market across Northeast Georgia, said “knowledge is money.”

That’s why he’s supporting the chamber’s efforts to bring Latino businesses together who “don’t have the tools to confront some challenges.”

“My personal interest is to help my community get this type of information,” he added.

Julio Hernandez, a loan officer with Homestar, said he was similarly motivated to pitch in.

“They don’t have the big support,” he said of Latino business owners. “They don’t talk to each other.”

Carlos Figueredo, meanwhile, said his networking had him currently negotiating a lease on a commercial property for his smoothie shop. He’s been saving money and trying to learn from his mistakes, and those of others, but now he’s ready to take the big plunge.

“It’s time to go all in,” he said. 

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The Northeast Georgia Latino Chamber of Commerce hosted a networking event on Thursday, May 17, 2018, in partnership with the University of Georgia Small Business Development Center to help unite the local Latino business community. - photo by David Barnes
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