Gov. Sam Brownback encouraged Hispanics in Kansas to build and expand businesses Wednesday, mainly by touting education and the state’s elimination of taxes for small businesses.
He was in Wichita to participate in the Hispanic Business Forum, sponsored by the Kansas Hispanic and Latino American Affairs Commission, the Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City and the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Between 50 and 100 people attended the panel discussion in which Brownback participated.
Kansas needs the Hispanic community to succeed, Brownback said. Hispanics make up 11 percent of the Kansas population and 16 percent of school-age children but, in the most recent count, just 2.4 percent of business owners.
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“We want to encourage the Hispanic community to grow, and we want you to grow here,” he said.
Asked what is the biggest hurdle the state faces in reaching out to Hispanic business owners, Brownback said, “Lack of effort.”
State government doesn’t have enough Hispanic staff to do effective outreach, and the state generally has been surprised at the rapid growth in the Hispanic population, he said.
He recommended that those who want to get ahead pursue education. He did tout the state’s efforts to put more money into paying for tuition for technical colleges.
Brownback said the Legislature is unlikely to OK the issuing of driver’s licenses to immigrants residing in the country illegally as a means to help boost those residents’ economic circumstances.
Rather than try to push anything affecting the status of immigrants through the Legislature, Congress needs to fix immigration policy, Brownback said, but he stopped short of specifying what measures he favors.
Reaction from audience members ranged from enthusiastic to skeptical.
Sharon Stuath owns a bilingual Wichita bookkeeping and tax service with more than 100 Hispanic business clients.
She said she has been excited to tell her clients that they would have no state income tax bill this year. The tax break will give them money to buy more equipment or hire more people, she said. It will drive economic development, she said.
“The only thing … is, I hope Kansas can afford it, because there are incredibly large amounts of Hispanic roofers, sheet-rockers and painters,” Stauth said.
Ann Hoskinson, a California transplant who attended the forum, said she was encouraged by Brownback’s comments, saying she’d like to start a business that helps Hispanic businesses better market themselves.
The reason for her change?
“Zero income taxes,” she said.
Bob Hernandez, a Wichita businessman and founder of the Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said it’s great to have such a forum, but just looking around showed that no one is connecting with or removing barriers for the vast majority of small Hispanic businesses that are often unfamiliar with or afraid of non-Hispanic institutions, such as banks, local government and the technical college.
“It still misses the boat,” he said of the state effort.