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Weekend edition October 08, 2021 | Kailyn Lamb

Knoxville Chamber webinar shows how businesses can support growing Latino population

By Kailyn Lamb, Marketing Content Writer and Editor, PYA

As the Hispanic and Latino population continues to increase in Knoxville, local organizations are working to support workers and new business owners from that community.

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Knoxville Chamber hosted a webinar, “Grow Together: Engaging with the Latino Business Community,” last week with Centro Hispano de East Tennessee. The panel focused on the growth of the Latino business community, what resources are available to them, and how the business community can be more involved.

The panel was moderated by Claudia Caballero, President and Chief Executive Officer of Centro Hispano. She was joined by: (1) Brandon Ledford, Director of Workforce Development at Centro Hispano; (2) Ace Beorchia, Instructor and Doctoral Candidate at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship; (3) Efrain Rodriguez, Safety Engineer at Express Employment Professionals; and (4) Ruben Moreno, Founder and Human Resources Executive Search Practice Leader at Blue Rock Search.

Caballero kicked off the panel by reflecting on her own experience in businesses working as a waitress in her family’s restaurant. As a current MBA student, she added that business is something she has always been passionate about.

“I was able to see how small business took us out of some really dire economic situations,” she said.

Beorchia, who is researching the growth of Latino businesses nationally, talked about how population growth is impacting those numbers. It is estimated that in the next 10 years, 30 percent of the population in the United States will be Latino.

“The future of the United States economy is really dependent on Latino business owners,” Beorchia said.

Even locally, the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area is becoming a more diverse place. In the August “Economic Conditions Outlook” report from the Chamber, census data showed that from 2010 to 2020, the number of people who identified as belonging to two or more races grew by 326.2 percent. The Hispanic population grew by 87 percent in the same time frame (read more in this article). Beorchia said Tennessee is one of the states that has become a new destination for Latino immigrants.

Because Tennessee wasn’t a region that immigrants came to historically, the state does not have as many of the support organizations or resources for those communities as other cities do. That is changing, Beorchia said, with work done by both Centro Hispano and local government.

The other panelists agreed, saying access to resources is something they are passionate about changing in the community. Language and access to capital were also barriers for some Latinos discussed by the panelists.

Although there are still barriers to resources, Rodriguez said he has seen an increase in companies becoming interested in hiring a more diverse workforce here. He thinks that trend will continue as resources become more available here.

“The more information there is available for people, the better growth that you see over time,” he said.

Partnerships make the efforts to combat these barriers stronger, Caballero said. Ledford agreed, saying partnerships with local government, the Chamber, and the community have been crucial to the work Centro Hispano does. The organization is launching support programming for small businesses later this year, he added. The program will be called “Grande Sueños, Pequeñas Empresas,” or “Big Dreams, Small Businesses.”

“Having these stakeholders come together and really want to address the issues and the barriers that face the Latino community, that’s been crucial for us in developing this department,” Ledford said.

The panel also discussed how businesses can better connect Latino workers and business owners here in Knoxville.

Moreno talked about recognizing the various cultures even within the Latino community, pointing out the three different countries were represented on the panel that day. Language is a big part of understanding that culture.

“It’s also about being bi-cultural and understanding those nuances,” he said. “You want to have an instant bond with a Latino, speak in our native tongue, and you’ve just won half the battle.”

Watch the full webinar here.

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