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Latina women from across the state on Tuesday descended on Columbus to discover the fine art of doing business in America.

The Center for Rural Affairs sponsored the Empowerment for Latina Women in Business Conference, which came this week to the Ramada Inn and River’s Edge Convention Center in Columbus. Special speakers from all corners of the business world came to talk about topics like strategic planning, marketing and promotion and understanding the many legal issues that arise from starting a business.

In addition, Latina businesswomen from across Nebraska shared their stories about entrepreneurship and inclusion through various panels held during the event.

Anna Pratt, director of the Women’s Business Center at the Center for Rural Affairs, said that while there have been plenty of conferences regarding women in the business world, there haven't been any relating specifically to Latina women, particularly those working in rural areas.

“We decided that there’s a real need for a conference that’s just focused on Latino and Latina business owners,” Pratt said. “We really felt that there was a need for a conference that (was) Spanish-speaking, predominantly, and only so that the attendees wouldn’t feel like they needed to have materials translated. We wanted the Latino community to feel welcome, and making it a Spanish-only conference was a really good way to target those individuals and make them feel like this resource is here specifically for them.”

Columbus was chosen as the site for the conference largely due to its central location, being around an hour-and-a-half from Lincoln and Omaha. It has also proven to be a hot spot for Latino business development, thanks to a quickly rising Hispanic population in Columbus and the greater Platte County area as a whole.

“This is a central location for a lot of what we do with our Latino Business Centers,” Pratt said. “There’s a lot of need in this area, and from a conference-planning standpoint, we thought we would go to the area with the highest amount of people that would need this service.”

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Representatives from the Latino Business Centers were in attendance, including two female Latino Loan Specialists: Griselda Rendon, based in Grand Island, and Veronica Spindola, based in Columbus. Spindola said she was proud to see the event come to Columbus, and with the expanding Hispanic population, she felt that it would have an enormous impact on the local business representatives in attendance.

“The Hispanic population in Columbus is growing really fast,” Spindola said. “When you see the business side of the Hispanics, a lot of them are women, so this event being directed at women entrepreneurs in this area, I think it’s very reassuring for them. It’s going to give them a lot of information and it’s also going to give us a lot of information about what’s out there, so we can reach out to them and help them.”

Rendon and Spindola help people through a program called the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project, which sets up the Latino Business Centers across the state. Initially, there were only two, including Rendon’s office in Grand Island. Now, the program has expanded, with five different offices covering all corners of the state, including Columbus. They help businesses with loans to help them get on their way, while also providing them with the legal assistance needed to navigate a different world than the one they may be used to.

“The advantage of this is helping to guide businesses and making sure they’re doing the legal way,” Rendon said. “Back in our countries, anyone can set out a table and sell stuff. There are no legalities as far as registering the business name, getting the EIN, paying sales tax, anything like that. Coming to the United States and having to do that, it’s complicated. They don’t understand the process, some of them may not be doing it (right) and then they run into issues. We’re here to help them with that.”

All legalities aside, the main purpose of the event was to get Latina women more engaged with their business. Center for Rural Affairs officials hoped that people would have more knowledge about resources and people that they could contact if they needed the help, from Centro Hispano here in Columbus to the various Latino Business Centers across the state. Mainly, they just wanted people to be more informed and better prepared.

“We really care about the networking that’s happening,” Pratt said. “We want them to understand from the network of people around them what they should be doing as a business owner to be successful. When they leave this conference, they’ll come away with the resources and networks that they can call on in the future. (Even) if they don’t need these resources right now, they might in one to five years, and we want them to know where these resources are and how to get a hold of them.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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