It’s a tale of two Fairfield Counties – on one side of the county, Latino businesses are swimming in cash and opportunities; but on the other side, Latino business owners are still struggling to get ahead.
In the Stamford Area, Latinos in the business community are having a lot of success and are able to find the resources they need to establish and grow their businesses, said Eneas Freyre, vice president of the Greater Stamford Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“The economy is booming down here,” said Freyre. “Hispanic business owners are feeling the boom, and they are also expanding. We’re very happy with the way things are going.”
Richard Jesus, the newly elected president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Bridgeport, was less enthusiastic.
“The economy is improving, but there is still a lot that needs to be done,” he said.
“A lot of Latinos are coming out to start businesses,” he said. “I see more contractors, building and home improvement businesses, also small mom and pop stores.”
Jesus said business owners in his area would like more help from the state, particularly with programs that provide micro-loans or help for small business owners who can’t afford to bond for building projects.
In the Stamford Area, Freyre said many of the business owners look more to federal political leaders and agencies rather than the state.
“We identify more with the New York City area, with the tri-state area – New York, New Jersey, Connecticut,” he said.
Freyre said politicians elected to federal positions – like U.S. Sens. Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Jim Himes – are very responsive to the needs of the Latino business community in Stamford, but he said he doesn’t interact as much with state officials or agencies.
Through the Small Business Administration, a federal agency tasked with helping small business owners, Freyre said Latino businessmen and women are able to get the resources they need to start and sustain businesses.
“They have an unbelievable amount of money earmarked for small businesses in the area. They are dying to make loans to small businesses – but you have to have a business plan,” he said.
The Stamford chamber holds courses for owners of small businesses on topics like how to write up business plans, or how to apply for loans or bonding through the SBA. The chamber receives help coordinating these events from the SBA, he said.
But from Jesus’ perspective, it is still difficult for small business owners to get the money they need to get their businesses off the ground. He also has experience with the SBA, but said while business owners in his area have received some help, it is “not where it should be yet.”
Even though Latinos make up 38 percent of the population in Bridgeport, Jesus said it has been difficult for Latinos to break into the local business arena, particularly with regards to city and state contracts.
“Other minority businesses are further ahead than us,” he said.
Latinos in the Bridgeport Area are not as well organized as they should be, but the recent announcement that the Hispanic Federation is establishing a state office was welcomed as an opportunity to organize, he said.
In Stamford, Freyre said the only negative comments he hears from business owners is complaints about the Affordable Care Act – but he said once they understand it better, they are willing to work with it.
Asked if he had any advice to share with budding entrepreneurs, Freyre said they should join their local Chamber of Commerce and look for opportunities to network.
“Why go at it alone?” he asked. “I share my knowledge all the time with people, even if they’re in competition with me. It always makes sense to have an ally within your industry.”