- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

A strong economy and the fertile entrepreneurial grounds of the Dulles and I-270 Technology corridors are bringing in more Hispanics businesses to the Washington Metropolitan area than ever before.
In the past 20 years alone, the region's Hispanic population has soared about 260 percent to nearly half a million, according to the Greater Washington Ibero American Chamber of Commerce.
In turn, Hispanic businesses are on the rise, which has spawned the growth of groups to help them wade through the rigors of business ownership.
There are 1.5 million Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide, while Greater Washington has more than 25,000 according to Ibero American Chamber.
"You're looking at over 100 percent growth from five years ago," said Juan Albert, Ibero American Chamber president.
"It's well in line with the population growth."
Several groups designed to help this growing segment include: National Community for Latino Leadership Inc., in the District, the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Arlington, and the Carlos Rosario International Adult and Career Center, Inc., also in the District.
Mr. Albert said the opportunities that attract white, black and Asian businesses to the region are also luring Hispanics.
"It's perpetuated by opportunities," he said. Most local Hispanics, until now, have tended to get work in labor-intensive jobs like construction and hospitality.
But the rise of the Internet and a strong economy, in this area, in particular, is creating more opportunities for Hispanic entrepreneurs, explained Enrique Lopezlira, research director at Hispanic Business Inc., a business publication.
"The Internet really lowers barriers to entry," he said. "What matters most is having a good idea."
Twenty-seven businesses in the area, including Soza & Company Ltd., a professional management company in Fairfax, and IQ Management Corp., provider of health care services in Springfield, were named among the "500 Largest Hispanic-Owned Companies" by Hispanic Business magazine.
Most of these are information technology companies, he said, "so, it's starting to take off."
As the generation evolves, the children, he said, will become more involved with technology and more Hispanic-owned businesses will open.
"We're a very young Latino population," Mr. Albert said. "But, we have to wait for that trend to take place."
The Census Bureau reports that the median age for Hispanics nationwide is 27, the youngest of all minority groups. The median age for whites is nearly 39 and for blacks it's 30.
Support organizations are starting to prepare those prospective Hispanic entrepreneurs.
The Ibero American Chamber, established in 1976, was among the first nonprofit Hispanic business groups to come into the region.
Now, it's one of hundreds sprouting up nationwide.
Rudy Mulder, founder of Chicago's Urban Investment Trust, also is chairman of Latino Initiatives for the Next Century, a nonprofit focused on providing education and training for Hispanic entrepreneurs. His organization also helps Hispanics getting started in business with information about capital, accounting and other issues.
The Metropolitan Better Business Bureau also started a support foundation to not only reach out to the elderly, but also to minorities regarding business plans.
As a sign of the local growth in Hispanic business, two major conferences: the Ibero American Conference 2000 and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 21st annual convention and exposition, will both be held in Washington for the first time this year.
Ernest Sanchez, founder of the Sanchez Law Firm in the District, remembers when he set out to open his practice 10 years ago.
Mr. Sanchez thought getting clients would be the difficult part. But he quickly realized that he needed a business plan.
"What I was naively not so prepared for were the business aspects of what I needed to do in terms of marketing, accounting, getting people to pay their bills. That was all a revelation," he said, noting that his experiences are common among new Hispanic entrepreneurs.
"Networking is an important aspect, and sometimes it's easier to do when using those community resources," Mr. Sanchez said.
Luis Vasquez-Ajmac, owner of MAYA Advertising and Communications, is trying to bring more attention to the Hispanic community nationwide through advertising and marketing.
"If you turn on your TV at night, if you go to a news rack this afternoon, I bet you will not find a Latino face," Mr. Vasquez-Ajmac said.
MAYA's clients include Pepco, the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, and Kaiser Permanente.
Mr. Vasquez-Ajmac produced television spots for Pepco aimed at Hispanic energy users. And his company has conducted research and developed a brochure on U.S.-Latin American travel for the Airports Authority.

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