COLUMBUS – Over the course of four years, Columbus experienced an increase in Latino-owned businesses which directly reflects the development of diversity and community growth.
“I am pleased anytime when there are new businesses. That is the bottom-line of the Chamber, regardless of who owns them,” said K.C. Belitz, president of Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce. “Generally we are pleased to see business growth in all of its forms.”
The Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce had four Latino business owners listed as members before establishing Engagement of Diversity as a priority and now, the Chamber has 14.
The number only depicts business owners who registered as members so the number might be much higher, Belitz said.
In partnership with the Chamber and Nebraska Public Power District, Centro Hispano, a non-profit organization with a mission to provide services to the Latino community, provides Micro Business Development Programs. It was first introduced in 2015. Community members who graduate from the program automatically become members of the Chamber.
Belitz said that the program played an important role in fueling the community with diverse businesses, which led to the growth.
Carlos Velazquez, owner of Window Tint, established his business two years ago. The business is run by Carlos and his family.
“Everybody wants their own business so we saw the opportunity and took it,” he said.
Velazquez has 25 years of experience working in the automotive field and has provided services throughout the state. He also completed his Micro Business Development Program training in 2016.
Velazquez said that the increasing number of Latino-owned businesses helps encourage more Latinos to open their own businesses.
“Different nationalities are coming into Columbus and there are a lot of job and business opportunities,” he said.
Fernando Lopez, owner of El Tapatio, took over the business from its former owner who passed away in 1997. He and his wife, Teresa, have been running the operations since 2000.
Lopez said the growth is a good reflection of the opportunities available in Columbus. It gives community members the chance to adopt new experiences and be exposed to different ethnicities.
Lopez is happy to see his ethnic community welcomed in Columbus.
“I can see more people coming in,” he said.
Lopez said that within the Latino population, there are subgroups with different cultures; such as people as from Peru, Chile and Argentina. Growth can help accommodate the needs of these difficult subgroups.
Belitz is pleased to see how accommodating the community is to new residents because it is the Chamber’s goal to attract new families and businesses into Columbus. He said the growth is particularly gratifying for Chamber members working on the Engaging Diversity Committee.
“I would assume that those numbers would continue to grow as the percentage of the population that is Hispanic or Latino goes up. Certainly, there will be a responding increase in those businesses,” he said. “That’s important for the community just as any other business growing is important to the community.”