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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Exports key for minority business

BY DAN VOORHIS
The Wichita Eagle

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew far faster than overall U.S. businesses, according to the most recent data, but they remain on average a third of the size of privately owned nonminority firms.

To boost Hispanic and other minority-owned business, the U.S. government is pushing for them to learn to export more and to seek more government contracts.

That is the reason Alejandra Castillo, deputy director of the Minority Business Development Agency, came to Wichita on Thursday as keynote speaker for the Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce banquet at Century II Exhibition Hall.

The chamber's annual event has gotten significantly larger since meeting in church basements nearly a decade ago.

Abel Perez, the chamber's executive director, said he's had good success pulling Hispanic and non-Hispanic members into the chamber, but there are plenty more out there.

There are at least 300 more Hispanic-owned businesses in the area, he said. His goal is 50 more Hispanic chamber members this year.

Strengthening minority-owned businesses of all kinds is Castillo's job.

She said that only 1 percent of U.S. companies export, and of those, more than half export to just one country.

"Our challenges are two-fold," she said. "One is for those already exporting to one market, how do we get them to export to more than one market? And for those who are not, how do we get them export-ready?"

Minority firms, she said, are twice as likely as other firms to export because of ties to a former home country.

The agency is also trying to point minority-owned firms toward government contracts.

Castillo's agency focuses on assisting minority firms with access to capital, contacts and markets.

"As minority firms grow, they become another cylinder in the great economic engine."

Reach Dan Voorhis at 316-268-6577 or dvoorhis@wichitaeagle.com.

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