PULLMAN, Wash. – Sometimes who you know is nearly as important as what you know, which is why business owners, business advisors and outreach specialists are creating a statewide business assistance and expansion network for Latino small business owners.

ASFINLA (an acronym that translates in English to Assistance for the Financial Health of Latino and Minority Businesses) will be launched at the annual conference of the Association of Washington State Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in Yakima on Sept. 30.
ASFINLA is supported by the  Washington State University Extension, Washington State Association of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, Washington Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) and Economic Development Association of Skagit County.
Peer mentoring, bilingual curricula

ASFINLA has two primary components, said José García-Pabón, Latino community studies and outreach specialist with WSU Extension and ASFINLA’s first director. First is one-to-one confidential advising by a Spanish-speaking business professional familiar with issues facing Latino business owners. Second is capacity building to strengthen local Hispanic chambers of commerce and create a more robust network among them.
In addition, ASFINLA is working to create a peer mentoring program matching Latino business owners in similar businesses, but different communities, and to develop bilingual business curricula that can be delivered to Latino communities throughout the state.
Hispanic businesses growing

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States increased by 43.7 percent to 2.3 million between 2002 and 2007 – more than twice the national rate of 18 percent. Hispanic-owned businesses generated $345.2 billion in sales in 2007, up 55.5 percent compared with 2002.
In Washington State, Hispanic or Latino residents make up 11.2 percent of the population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. But, said García-Pabón, there are very few business assistance programs that reach out to Latino and other minority business owners or that offer culturally and linguistically appropriate  advising and training programs.
Based on county pilot program

Gilberto Mendoza, a tax professional in Pasco who specializes in small businesses, said he believes the ASFINLA program will be tremendously helpful, both because of the one-to-one advising and because of opportunities to network with other small business owners and with state auditors.
In Pasco, he said, it has been extremely beneficial to have representatives from the departments of Revenue, Labor and Industry, and Employment Security meet with Latino business owners and explain their work. Asking for information or help from someone you’ve met face-to-face is a lot easier than calling a name on a website, he said.
Similarly, Mendoza said he believes a peer mentoring program has incredible potential to build confidence, knowledge and capacity within the Latino business community. Instead of feeling isolated, he said, participants would have “a mentor, a friend, someone they could trust to guide them through the many hurdles that small business owners face.”

ASFINLA is based on a 2010 pilot project that was developed by García-Pabón and Diana Morelli of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County that involved 140 participants, Garcia-Pabon said. Morelli, who heads the Latino Business Retention Expansion Program, will be assistant director of ASFINLA.

About the conference

After opening remarks by Cris Guillen, CEO of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce and executive coordinator of ASFINLA, and Daniel Bernardo, dean of the WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS) and WSU Extension, conference participants will hear a panel discussion on “Supporting the Success of Underserved Small Businesses.”
Panelists will include Brett Rogers, state director of the Washington SBDC; Larry Sanchez, board chairman of the Central Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Martin Valadez, president of the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Gus Ramos, executive director of the Skagit County Housing Authority and former president of the Las Vegas Latin Chamber of Commerce.

A second panel discussion on “Technology: Today’s Key to Success” will include remarks by Albert Torres, founder and president of Tu Decides Media, and Abelardo Rodriguez, assistant professor at the University of Idaho.

The conference will include launch of an online business and professional services directory to benefit Latino business owners and members of the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. AT&T sponsorship is enabling creation of the directory, and a $25,000 contribution from the AT&T Foundation will enable compilation of the foundational bilingual curricula and training for Hispanic chambers of commerce boards of directors.
The conference will be 1-5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 30, at the Yakima Convention Center, 10 N. 8th St., with a reception to follow. Funding for the conference is provided by AT&T, Wal-Mart, Wells Fargo and others through the support of the WSU Foundation.

To register for the conference, go to http://www.awshccevents.com/
Jose Garcia-Pabon, garciajl@wsu.edu, 425-357-6008
Cris Guillen, president@awshcc.com, 206-329-5534