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Organizers are well on their way to forming a Hispanic Business Association in Lebanon, an effort they believe will succeed where others have failed.
While surrounding regions with Hispanic populations have progressed in that area, including Lancaster and Berks counties, Lebanon hasn’t kept pace, Rafael Torres told LebTown.
As one of the organizers, he said the association will be open, not just to Hispanic-owned businesses, but to all businesses where the Hispanic community spends money.
Young entrepreneur Amaury Abreu, who owns Legatux and publishes the community newspaper q’Hubo, said the focus will initially be on Lebanon City. He acknowledged the diversity amid Hispanic-owned businesses, ranging from auto body shops and restaurants to barbers and accountants.
“The Hispanic Business Association will unify the City of Lebanon’s Hispanic businesses to create a platform to support, educate, promote and provide resource opportunities for the purpose of integrating the Hispanic business community into the Lebanon economy,” according to its mission statement.
There’s also a Facebook page, in Spanish; bylaws are being drawn up as well.
At a recent public meeting, Lebanon Mayor Sherry Capello noted the changing demographics of the city, now with a 44% Hispanic population that has grown significantly in recent years.
Jackie Parker, a former Lebanon mayor, also is an organizer.
“The Hispanic community as a valuable asset to the revitalization of the city,” Parker said in a release. “We hope to bring leaders in business together to start the process as we navigate the COVID pandemic and more.”
She told LebTown that she, Abreu, and Torres began by walking the streets and asking Hispanic businesses if they were able to get coronavirus relief money. “Some said no,” Parker said.
Read more: Minority-owned small businesses were largely shut out of Pa.’s first coronavirus loan program
This is where a business association would make a difference.
Read more: Researchers, advocates tackle COVID-19’s disproportionate toll on Latino community
Parker said the key is having companies commit to being members of the association, because the owners are already so busy. That’s why attempts to form similar organizations have failed, she said. “They get started and stop, get started and stop …”
The association will communicate with Community First Fund, she said, a lender that prioritizes women- and minority-owned businesses.
Two decades ago, when Parker led the city, the number of Hispanic residents was much lower.
What she said she finds fascinating is how the residential patterns and businesses reflect each other.
Many shops, bodegas, or restaurants are neighborhood anchors, Parker said. People have questions about the city, about how to get a permit, for example.
“There’s a lot of misinformation,” she said, and the association will be an important resource.
Abreu said he envisions the association as a marketing and advertising tool. “We’re looking to collaborate with the (Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce).”
The Hispanic Business Association’s next organizational meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Scott Church’s Living Room, located at 39 S. 8th St., Lebanon.
Up until now, there’s been a lack of outreach to the Lebanon Hispanic community from those in power, Torres said. When they’re invited to join the table, their concerns are not addressed, Torres said.
They’ve been getting “the crumbs from the cookie,” he said.
“Now it’s time to create our own table,” he said. “This is for the greater good of the community.”
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