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Hispanic-American business owners are important to the Phoenix economy

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In US business, discussion of Hispanic-Americans revolves, at best, around their buying power (expected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2015), at worst, just around their value as low-cost workers. But Hispanic-Americans have a long history as entrepreneurs, and their value to the US as business owners is often underestimated. The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC) and Local First Arizona (LFA) are two organizations in Phoenix seeking to enhance the visibility and viability of Hispanic-owned businesses.

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Hispanics are destined to be over 26% of the US population by 2050. Hispanic-Americans already comprise over 30% of Arizona’s population. The AZHCC has been operating for 66 years. It is noted for its Black and White Ball, which annually attracts over 1000 business, government and community leaders; DATOS: Focus on the Hispanic Market, an annual report about trends in the Hispanic market; and various networking events. Many of the Valley’s national corporations support AZHCC.

LFA, founded by Kimber Lanning, is over 20 years old. Its emphasis is on small businesses, which are based in Arizona. LFA is one of the Valley’s fastest growing associations, with over 2500 members. It has taken a unique approach in helping Spanish-speaking businesses grow through a group called Fuerza Local. “Fuerza” means strength or vigor in English. “Local First empowers members to build the life they want,” says Lanning, “Together we can build a stronger economy.”

Fuerza Local consists of over 50 Spanish-speaking businesses and is growing. On March 29, Fuerza Local held its second Tianguis Fuerza Local at the Golden Gate Community Center in Phoenix. The public got to learn about, enjoy and purchase goods and services from Spanish-speaking businesses, like La 15 y Salsas restaurant, and entrepreneurs like Ceci Melendez, who created The Cake Art Studio, as well as non-Hispanic-owned businesses, which provide bilingual services.

“The word Tianguis means an open air market or bazaar, which we thought was a perfect word to describe our annual festival,” said Carlos Velasco, Director of Fuerza Local. “We were happy that over 1000 residents got to interact with over 40 vendors at the festival.”

While only 18% of first generation Hispanic-Americans speak English, 93% of their American-born children do. But it is still important to nurture the culture of Spanish-speaking businesses and encourage their contribution to our economy.

Arizona would benefit from, not just viewing Hispanic-Americans as workers or consumers, but as business leaders helping to strengthen our economy.