Lebanon City is fortunate to have a growing and increasingly diverse residency base. We believe engaging all cultures and perspectives as part of our development strategy will produce a more powerful local economy.
As stated in the article, Lebanon’s Hispanic population has increased from 16% in 2000, to 32% in 2010 and to 44% in 2019. We anticipate the 2020 Census results to record an even higher percentage. Lebanon City is living up to its tagline, “The Place to Grow” and Lebanon County is growing as well. Prior to the pandemic, our county was the second fastest growing county in our State.
As our population expands and neighborhoods grow, the need for retail, food, grocery, and other daily service options also increase. A strong and assorted base of these businesses would not only serve the Hispanic community but offer unique cultural diversity to the resident base and visitors at large. A growing diverse ethnic resident base is not unique to Lebanon City. This is common to many cities in our nation and a culturally diverse population has been credited for contributing to greater economic and social vibrancy – something we embrace.
The article quotes Rafael Torres stating, “Lebanon hasn’t kept pace” (while surrounding areas have progressed). This is a somewhat harsh statement as numerous undertakings have been accomplished. The City championed many efforts when individuals and/or organizations wanted to run with ideas. We want success for all our businesses in the City.
The City’s Outreach
With a diverse population growing steadily, the City has been participating in outreach to the Hispanic owned and operated businesses for many years even before my election as mayor. Shortly after elected, the City held a public meeting with several governmental officials at Pastor Luis Hernandez’s church located at 7th & Lehman Streets. We attended several meetings with the Hispanic Ministerium, and we met with other leaders from other communities to become better educated on the needs and next steps to assist this growing population.
Upon recommendation from the City’s Grow Lebanon strategic plan, we established a task force to explore and better understand the needs and barriers to Hispanic owned and operated businesses. Hispanic community members and leaders were invited and encouraged to participate and guide this task force so efforts could be made in the areas most needed. Although progress was slow, progress was made. The task force investigated options for restarting a Hispanic run radio station. The Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce offered a series of workshops for small businesses in Spanish. SCORE, in cooperation with the Chamber, provided free business mentoring to any business but worked on greater outreach to the Hispanic community. Community First Fund offered business financing workshops in Spanish. And ultimately, the Lebanon Diversity Social was an idea borne from these task forces and executed by Rafael Torres.
Why Partnerships Work
The City can make connections to other much needed resources to help our Hispanic businesses thrive and grow. The City has been a catalyst initiating and developing partnerships with many organizations so we can accomplish the priorities determined by many community stakeholders. It is important to work cooperatively and collaborate on the revitalization of our City, and not work independently of others not knowing what each other is doing.
Out of a great City partnership with Community First Fund, we established business hours at the Chamber to assist Spanish speaking applicants applying for the City’s COVID Small Business Assistance Forgivable Loan program. Dan Beck, vice president and senior lender with Community First Fund, was also the task force leader for the City’s (previously mentioned) Hispanic Outreach task force. As a lender, this partnership helped to support and invest in growing smaller neighborhood-based businesses in the Hispanic community.
Our partnership with Guadalupe Barba of Juntos de Lebanon provided the opportunity for me to visit Hispanic businesses and encourage them to apply for the City’s Forgivable Loan program. (The City still has funds to give – please call us!) Guadalupe and her husband personally helped individuals complete their grant applications. She also collaborated with the Chamber to help Hispanic businesses complete their Lebanon County CARES grant application. Many of these applicants were funded.
Except for Juntos de Lebanon, which succeeded because of the passion and commitment of one-woman, other organizations have struggled because recognizably, it is difficult for hard-working entrepreneurs to find the time to commit to these efforts. Creating a Hispanic Business Association is a great idea, and the City will support the efforts. However, we would encourage outreach and collaboration with existing organizations like the Community of Lebanon Association, Downtown Lebanon and the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce. Currently, there has been no outreach to collaborate with any of these existing organizations.
There has been outreach to the Hispanic community. Could there be more? Of course, as there could be more efforts in so many areas of great need. But this is a time when we need to make a concerted effort to collaborate. There is power in numbers and shared resources. We all want the same thing, to feel support and care in a community that belongs to all of us.
Lebanon City Mayor
Sherry Capello is currently serving her third term as Mayor of the City of Lebanon.