AZ’s growing Hispanic-owned business sector gets help from Fuerza Local

PHOENIX – Berni Reina and his wife were simultaneously laid off in 2013. The Avondale residents had no steady income and had to provide for their family, so the two began to look for work.

After one unsuccessful interview at a coffee shop, Reina decided to take matters into his own hands.

“My wife and I sat there at the coffee house, and we kind of ended up really liking the atmosphere of the coffee house,” Reina said. “We just looked at each other and said,’Let’s do this.'”

The Reinas set off to start “Colados Coffee and Crepes” – colados represents the filtration process used to make coffee in Mexico – but the couple quickly realized there was much more to starting a business than simply deciding to do so. After some research, he ended up at Fuerza Local, a branch of Local First Arizona that supports the Latino business community.

“This program was born so that others could thrive and become better business owners,” said Edgar Olivo, program director at Fuerza Local.

Fuerza Local launched a business accelerator program in 2013 to educate Latinos on how to run a business. The program lasts six months and includes classes taught in Spanish that help new owners overcome the hurdles startups have to tackle, such as acquiring credit and networking.

The program has helped more than 80 small businesses, according to Fuerza Local.

The nonprofit’s leaders plan to expand from its Phoenix-centered operation to hold classes in Mesa, Avondale and Maryvale, a neighborhood in west Phoenix, starting next year. The program received a $144,000 grant from the Maricopa County Industrial Development Authority to expand.

“It’s one of the first initiatives, that I’ve at least experienced, where the majority of the grant is literally going into the hands of the business owner,” Olivo said. “If we can create sustainable businesses, then we’re creating new jobs, and we’re creating a better community all the way around.”

Olivo said the expansion is not only important, but necessary to keep up with an increasing demand from new Hispanic entrepreneurs looking to get help in the early stages of their ventures.

Reina, who is looking at expanding Colados to the downtown Phoenix area, said he is proof the program can make a difference.

“(Colados) would have survived, but I’m not sure if we would be in the same place we are now had we not gone through the program,” Reina said.

Reina said starting a business comes with risk: “You never know what could happen, but the worst thing you can do is to do nothing at all.”

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce does caution prospective entrepreneurs to become informed before taking too much of a risk.

James Garcia, a spokesman for the chamber, said it’s important for business owners to understand “whether there is paperwork that you have to fill out, if you’re contracting with certain companies and agencies, all of those things. It helps to have a stronger educational base to face those challenges.”

Hispanic owned business increased from 52,667 in 2007 to 89,673 in 2012, according to a 2015 report released by the chamber. New estimates will be released Tuesday at the chamber’s Datos 2016 event.

Garcia said the increase in businesses comes mainly because of the rise in the population.

The Hispanic population in Arizona grew from 688,338 in 1990 to more than 2 million in 2014, according to numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Pew Research Center.

“Given the growth rate in Hispanic-owned businesses, given the new attention paid to Hispanic consumers and the impact we have on the economy, we think it’s a great time to be a Latino entrepreneur,” Garcia said.

The chamber’s “Datos 2015” report also states women have been the fastest-growing portion of business owners, and they now make up more than 54 percent of all Hispanic-owned businesses in the state.

“Latinas tend to graduate from high school and college at higher rates than Hispanic males,” Garcia said. “They’re better positioned to start a new business because that education gives them a certain skills set that they need.”

Fuerza Local representatives said they will accept 60 businesses for their accelerator program starting in January.