Incorporating Hispanic businessowners into civic and business groups

Many communities have civic and business groups comprised of local businessmen. In Iowa and in other places in the United States, it has been a challenge to incorporate Hispanic business owners into these organizations:

Main Street Iowa, like other programs nationwide, has been working to overcome barriers, many of them cultural, that keep Hispanic-owned businesses from joining the historic preservation group.

Specialists such as Thom Guzman and Norma Ramirez de Miess said the effort is crucial to revitalizing Iowa main streets and downtowns, because Hispanics are rapidly becoming a fixture in Iowa’s business landscape. Hispanics are the state’s fastest-growing business owners and have the fastest-growing population…

Terry Besser, a sociologist with Iowa State University, said Main Street programs — as well as chambers and other merchant or business groups — have their work cut out for them. Her research shows that Hispanic owners often distrust outsiders and government.

A study of 18 rural communities in Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska showed that 24 percent of Hispanic-owned companies were business association members, vs. nearly 70 percent of businesses owned by white men.

The main suggestion in the article is that community leaders need to build personal ties with Hispanic businessowners before they can address commerce issues. How many communities do a good job at such outreach? This is an issue of social networking: white businessowners are plugged into these community organizations which can then lead to other opportunities.

This is a growing concern in communities where shopping areas, whether they be historic downtowns or strip malls or shopping centers, may be split between businessowners of different backgrounds. Working on projects, like building preservation or facade improvement, may prove to be more difficult. Local business organizations, such as the Chamber of Commerce, usually aim to work on improving business opportunities for the whole community but this could be problematic in terms of lobbying or getting things done if large portions of the business community are not on board.

Yet I wonder if the aims of Hispanic business owners and these groups are the same and if it is really a problem if they are not.

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