Westchester County, New York, combines economic assistance with networking to help Hispanic businesses succeed
In a county with a large number of Hispanic residents, the need to help Hispanic businesses grow and thrive is easy to understand. Such is the case with Westchester County, New York. The fourth most diverse county in the state boasts a Latino population of 22 percent. And reaching out to Hispanic residents to help them start and maintain businesses is a focus for County Executive Rob Astorino and his county staff.
Hispanic Businesses Flourish
Adelo Ramirez is a case and point. His Portchester-based business makes tortillas and wanted a way to increase distribution channels. Jim Coleman, the Westchester Industrial Development Agency (IDA) director, connected Ramirez with Crasdale Food. The food distributor in New York and Florida is going to pick up Ramirezs product. As a result, his company is hiring new people.
This is a wonderful opportunity for him to expand his business and hes going to hire new people, says Astorino. Its interesting, hes in eight stores now and his concern is how does he expand to keep up with it? Rather than a government program that provides subsidies for a short time and then goes away, Astorino finds value in using the IDA to help make these kinds of connections.
Not all Hispanic businesses need a hand. Pablo and Maria Morales opened a Bake-Me-A-Wish franchise in Peekskill and invited Astorino to visit their store. They make the greatest chocolate chip cookies and we just hit it off, says Astorino.
Astorino says the couple didnt need any help from the county to get their business off the ground but he was happy to give them a little publicity by mentioning them in his State of County Address earlier this year.
Armando Rodriguez of A&A Maintenance is another of the countys success stories. In 1973, the Cuban immigrant established his business with four employees, providing maintenance services. Rodriguez was among those honored during Hispanic Heritage Month in Westchester County.
Also recognized was Yankees great Bernie Williams for his work with a nonprofit group called Hillside Food Outreach, which distributes and collects food for the hungry.
To help spread the word about the countys mission of helping Hispanic businesses, Astorino charged the Hispanic Advisory Board to focus on opportunities and get the message out through the Latino community on how they can start a business, get involved in the community and working with the county government if necessary.
The countys Local Development Corporation (LDC) also provides outreach in the community. The local corporation was formed to help non-profit organizations get low-interest loans or financing to help them expand.
From bakeries, to maintenance services to tortilla making, Hispanic businesses are a continuing and growing focus in Westchester County. In addition to helping entrepreneurs, the countys Workforce Investment Board helps train workers for jobs. Providing a one-stop shop in conjunction with the state Labor Department, the board works with local businesses on fitting their needs with training. We can actually help people get jobs that are going to be available and not just train them for positions that may not ever come to fruition, Astorino explains.