Beaufort chamber forges partnership with Hispanic magazine

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Beaufort chamber forges partnership with Hispanic magazine

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Saturday, March 3, 2012   |  584 Words  |  

Several Hispanic business owners in Beaufort County earn a comfortable living serving other Spanish-speakers.

But what they would really like is to assimilate into the larger local economy.

That's the aim of a new Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce partnership with La Isla, a Hilton Head Island-based Hispanic magazine.

"I hear from Hispanic business owners all the time, asking me, 'What can I do to attract more American customers?' " said the magazine's owner, Eric Esquivel.

Beginning March 12, the chamber will provide a series of tutorials to help Hispanic business owners become better integrated into the county's economic network.

The sessions -- which will be conducted in English, with a translator -- will focus on ways business owners can improve their marketing strategies, business plans and customer service.

Esquivel said many owners struggle with fundamental business practices, such as securing requisite licenses.

A second series, which are not yet scheduled, will aim to help businesses interested in expanding their customer base to the Hispanic community.

The partnership should benefit the entire county, according to chamber president Blakely Williams, who predicted an increase in business-license revenue.

She said the partnership is the result of meetings last summer between the chamber's small-business and entrepreneurship committee and local Hispanic leaders.

"We learned of their needs and then worked to understand how we could organize basic, 'Business 101'-type meetings for people in their community," Williams said.

The focus group was organized by Mission Resources Group. Its president, Paul Jacobson, said he left that meeting convinced of the need for a partnership.

"It made me realize that we were past the tipping point to do something on an organized basis for the community," he said. "There was a lot of interest there."

The sessions will be conducted by representatives of the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Small Business Development Center at both USCB campuses. They will be free and open to all local businesses, including those that are not chamber members.

USCB's Beaufort campus will host meetings March 12, April 9 and May 14. Its Hilton Head Gateway Campus will host them March 19, April 16 and May 21. Times for those meetings have not be determined. For more information, contact Jayson Gardner at the Beaufort chamber.

The partnership should benefit a growing but insular segment of the local population, Esquivel said.

"The amount of Latino-owned businesses in the area has just skyrocketed," Esquivel said, adding there are more than 200 such retail businesses in Beaufort County.

One of them, Fiesta Party in Bluffton, is frequented by a clientele uncomfortable with non-Hispanic businesses, according to its owner, Consuelo Saldivar.

"They come to us because we speak the same language," she said. "They don't go many places because of that; they're afraid."

Dr. Sean Pitale of Optical Solutions, an optometry business in southern Beaufort County, said the partnership should alleviate those concerns.

"It can be a nerve-racking thing to walk into an office and not be able to communicate with the secretary or tell the doctor what the problem is," he said.

"That's a barrier we're trying to knock down."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Hispanic numbers skyrocket, Aug. 5, 2006