LAKEWOOD RANCH — A native Colombian, Cesar Gomez knows the ins and outs of the Latino business community.
He also knows in the United States last year, the Latino population accounted for $954 billion in revenues, of which $12 billion was spent between Tampa and Sarasota.
“Those are numbers that any business owner wants to keep an eye on,” Gomez said.
As executive director of the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, Gomez is positioning his organization to help bridge the gap between American and Latino business owners and customers through networking, training and other business opportunities.
His goal is not only to equip Latino business owners with the skills and tools they need to be successful but also to teach Americans and Hispanics how to do business with each other.
“Their business behavior is totally different,” Gomez said. “We (Latinos) need more time and trust. We need to know a little bit more about you to do business.
“Both cultures are going to be exposed to the other one in many ways (through the chamber),” he said. “We build those bridges. We help them work together.”
Gomez stepped in to lead the Latin Chamber about two years ago when the organization had about 60 members. Since that time, he has worked to discover what resources Hispanic business owners most need and establish programs such as business card exchanges and networking luncheons.
He’s also improved communication for the organization by growing the email list, creating a better image for the organization and improving the organization’s Web site and logo.
If numbers are any indication, Gomez’s strategies are working. Despite changes in the economy, membership has grown to 250, and the organization’s e-mail list has hit 5,000.
“Every day, it’s growing,” Gomez said.
The chamber recently moved its operations to an office in the ComCenter in Lakewood Ranch to better position itself for the future and for the growth of new business.
“We needed to find some place on University (Parkway) between Sarasota and Manatee — a middle point because we serve both counties,” Gomez said. “Lakewood Ranch is a wonderful area. It’s a wonderful point to do new business.”
Although East County typically hasn’t had many Hispanic business owners, the trend is upcoming, Gomez said. A decade ago, immigrants to the area, and Florida in general, came only with basic labor skills. Five years ago, that began to change as Latin American doctors and other business people began to seek out lucrative areas in which to raise their families.
Areas such as Lakewood Ranch are perfect for those business professionals and Gomez said he expects to see more Hispanic-oriented businesses come to the East County, possibly some Latino markets or other venues.
“I think we can bring this to Lakewood Ranch and make it richer in culture in a nice way,” he said.
Gomez also said the chamber already is working to establish a cause for its members. The organization is setting up a 501C3 to set up the Latin Chamber Foundation, which will provide scholarships, Gomez said.
For more information on the Latin Chamber of Commerce, visit www.latinchamber.org.
Contact Pam McTeer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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