By Christine Bolaños.
Latina entrepreneurs are the fastest growing segment of the business population across the country. Charlotte, North Carolina, is a prime example of a major U.S. city where Latinas are leading the charge in business while raising revenue for the local economy, becoming socially engaged, giving back to their communities and inspiring young women of color to follow in their footsteps.
“The face of Charlotte is changing. For nearly three decades, the Latino labor force has helped build and fuel our city,” says Natalia Flores, public relations director at AC&M Group. “As women, we are quite often the ‘glue’ holding everything together from our households to the work force and in the community.”
According to Flores, data from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools shows an increase in Latino youth and students speaking Spanish, with Hispanics being the majority of 18 of the schools.
“All of that translates to the next generation of Latinas having even more educational and professional opportunities and access than we do today,” Flores shares.
In her case, being fluent in Spanish gave her an extra edge or was a requirement for a job during her career in global public relations. Her roots, cultural perspective and keen understanding of multicultural markets have been key to developing inclusive communication strategies for brands and organizations at all levels.
She is not alone. Johanna Suarez, who serves as operations manager at Reliable Restorations, a fire and water mitigation and restoration company, says her Colombian roots were essential to the professional she is today.
“I learned at an early age the different faces of being an entrepreneur and developed a passion for the business world,” Suarez explains.
As an immigrant, she is familiar with the struggles many face when starting a business.
“We are unfamiliar with the rules and regulations. You only know that you have an idea and you want to make it work,” she adds. “I love talking with business owners, especially Latinas because I can sympathize with them, and if allowed, can mentor and guide them as they grow their business.”
According to Suarez, organizations like the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte and Small Business Administration are rich in resources for entrepreneurs.
Rocio Gonzalez, who was born in New York City to Colombian parents, grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and returned to the United States after high school, serves as executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte (LACCC).
She has served in some capacity at the chamber for nearly a decade and in her initial years saw membership grow by 300 percent.
According to Gonzalez, Latina entrepreneurs in Charlotte are increasing employment opportunities in the area and filling the gap on services in various industries.
“They are preparing themselves prior to opening their business and are sustaining their business for longer periods,” she shares, contrasting them to a trend of 8 out of 10 new businesses closing within the first year.
She attributes this to lack of preparation and/or lack of capital.
Latina business owners continue to break barriers and are taking the helm in industries traditionally operated by men.
Their success in Charlotte may partly result from help from the Chamber. LACCC has a plethora of tools including business workshops, ongoing educational programs and opportunities for leadership and empowerment. Entrepreneurs can connect with corporate employees who can provide services such as mentoring. The chamber also advocates for equality and fairness in corporate and government contracts.
“Our statistics show that every year the number of Latina-owned businesses increases,” Gonzalez shares, adding that there are likely many more Hispanic-owned firms in the area than data shows as it is exclusive to the chamber membership.
Gonzalez says the only major industry where she sees a discrepancy in Latina leaders is in manufacturing. However, Latinas are taking the lead in hospitality, construction, human resources, marketing, advertisement and entertainment.
“We encourage Latinas to explore the possibility of entering into the manufacturing industry,” she explains. The chamber connects Latinas with manufacturing leaders who can explain what the industry does and job opportunities available.
Neyra Toledo, a Puerto Rican who moved to North Carolina in 2015, serves as director for the North Carolina Society of Hispanic Professionals, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting education among Hispanic youth.
She says the number of Latina professionals, including in business, has increased tremendously because more of them are choosing higher education.
“They’re getting educated and starting their own business and putting that personal charm behind their different ventures,” she shares.
Part of that personal charm includes a commitment to social involvement and giving back to their communities.
“There’s a social responsibility they feel of not just developing their own business but contributing to the workforce and creating opportunities,” Toledo says.
If a Latina has a vision in mind, she suggests she “goes for it” and not worry about fitting a mold, while staying resourceful, researching and evaluating opportunities.
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