Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

August 23, 2013

Free enterprise igniting stronger Latino community

Their leaders have a responsibility to mentor the young.

By Danny Lopez and Rafael Sanchez Guest columnists
Kokomo Tribune

---- — Each September, Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate “Latino culture,” an all-encompassing term that by no means does justice to the diversity of the population. It also represents a chance to explore the transformations underway at both the community and state levels, and as is often the case there can be little doubt that such transformation is being ignited by the growth in size and influence of the state’s Latino business leadership. Even a cursory look at data and trending leaves little doubt that as the population grows and matures, expanded entrepreneurism and professional development will continue to form the foundation for long-term community success.

This perpetual strengthening of Indiana’s Latino business community has mirrored substantially the population’s decade-long metamorphosis into our state’s, and indeed the nation’s, fastest-growing demographic. As one might expect, the most significant sprouting of businesses founded, overseen and managed by Latino Hoosiers has been observed in Marion and Lake counties, two of our state’s larger population centers and long the destinations for Hispanics migrating to Indiana. Still, we are now home to approximately 8,000 Latino-owned businesses, and one clear signal of the community’s ascension has been the prevalence of such small- and medium-sized firms in Anderson, Plymouth, French Lick and other areas historically well beyond the perimeter of Latino growth circles.

These leaders have more often than not provided much-needed direction and support to local community organizations that are caring for our most vulnerable. Latino business leaders have in countless instances understood their role in facilitating opportunity for the next generation of workers and entrepreneurs, of reinvesting in their home communities, and of organic transformation through advocacy and example one neighborhood at a time. As with other groups throughout our nation’s history, the rise in influence of the professional class is paying dividends not only for those less fortunate but for young professionals and students just now making their way into the workplace. The social gains are exponential, and we’re fortunate that so many Latino business folks have embraced their opportunity to be transformational.

Steps have been taken to ensure that this continues across the state. At the Hispanic Business Council (HBC), for example, a strong mentorship program has been in place for several years that pairs stronger firms with emerging ones and offers the former the chance to share knowledge and experiences and the latter a way to learn and tailor best practices to their business models. This is instrumental not only for businesses’ prosperity, but for the well-being of their employees and for the communities in which they reside.

Similarly, the Indiana’s Commission on Hispanic and Latino Affairs has recently partnered in two public/private micro-lending programs, in both rural and urban settings, that have engaged important local community organizations and helped spur Latino entrepreneurship at the very grassroots level. Fostering entrepreneurial growth at the neighborhood level has demonstrated real gains in educational achievement and community strengthening in other states, and as such efforts have taken root here Latino entrepreneurs have become catalysts for local improvement and innovations.

In the same way, numerous local professional organizations have inspired their membership of both up-andcoming and established Latino business leaders to engage socially and create change by pulling their communities up by their proverbial bootstraps. After all, Indiana’s Latino professionals have the capacity to lead.

Amidst the fiestas and parades and Corona commercials this Hispanic Heritage Month, then, let’s also commend and celebrate the ascendency of Indiana’s Latino businesses and the leaders that make them go. And let’s encourage them to always collaborate with one another and understand both their individual and collective responsibility to continue developing their communities and providing opportunities for the thousands of young Latinos that will be so instrumental in shaping Indiana’s economic and cultural landscapes into the future.

Danny Lopez is executive director of the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. Rafael Sanchez is chairman of the Indianapolis Chamber’s Hispanic Business Council.