Latino-owned businesses emerge to fill growing need
By Dave Dreeszen - Business Journal editor - Sioux City Journal
Ozziel Loera sells and installs car stereos, sound systems and alarms. Most of his customers are fellow Latinos, who feel more comfortable dealing with someone like himself who is fluent in their native Spanish.
"There's a language barrier," said Loera, owner of Oasis Auto Sound, 808 W. Seventh St. "They go to other places. They don't feel 100 percent satisfied because they can't communicate."
Oasis Auto Sound is among the growing number of Latino-owned businesses in metro Sioux City. Most have emerged to fill the needs of an increasing diverse population. An immigration wave in the 1990s brought thousands of Spanish speakers to the metro area, many coming from California and Texas to work in local meatpacking plants.
In South Sioux City alone, the new migrants more than quadrupled the Latino population from 6 percent in 1990 to nearly 25 percent of the city's 11,925 residents by the 2000 census.
Last year, a group of area organizations surveyed minority-owned businesses in South Sioux City, with the vast majority being Latino owned. The study found that 71 percent of the 31 firms surveyed started in the last five years.
"The minority business community here is growing, but it's very young," said Jim Perdue, executive director of Siouxland Unidad Latina, one of the groups that sponsored the study.
Eighty-seven percent of the businesses were family owned and operated, with few employees beyond the proprietors. But together, they employed nearly 100 full-time and 50 part-time jobs, however.
Perdue said the survey also showed that virtually none of the minority-owned companies had a written business plan or professional advisors. "If they were going to ask for advice about their business, most said they would ask a trusted friend or family member," he said.
The study clearly identified the need for training, technical assistance and lending opportunities for minority-owned businesses.
Fifteen owners who participated in the survey later completed a training program, conducted in Spanish by the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project. REAP, a program of the Center for Rural Affairs, has established a Hispanic rural business center focusing on South Sioux City and two other Nebraska communities with large Latino populations - Scottsbluff and Schuyler. REAP is currently offering the training program on Tuesday evenings in South Sioux, said Adriana Dungan, REAP business specialist.
A survey of minority-owned businesses in Sioux City, Sergeant Bluff and North Sioux City was completed earlier this year. The results are scheduled to be released on Oct. 21, said Perdue, whose organization partnered with the New Iowan Center on the second phase.
Following the initial study, a group of Latino merchants formed their own organization, the Siouxland Latino Business Association. Perdue said sponsors also work to connect minority-owned firms with professional groups, like the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and the South Sioux City Area Chamber of Commerce. Debi Durham, president of the Siouxland Chamber, serves on Siouxland Unidad Latina's board of directors.
Siouxland Unidad Latina, which recently moved to new offices at 1910 Dakota Ave., was founded as Siouxland Hispanic Ministries in 2002. Perdue is a former Methodist minister who previously served as a missionary in South America, where he and his wife became fluent in Spanish.
Last year's survey of business owners grew out of a community service project undertaken by class members in the Siouxland Immigrant Leadership Training Program two years ago. The eight-week grassroots training, which began in 2001 under the leadership of Norma DeLaO, now director of the New Iowan Center, covers a broad range of subjects, from local government and immigration to education and banking.
Perdue said Siouxland Unidad Latino is in the process of putting together a new coalition to continue the program in 2006. In the first five years, 99 local residents have completed the training.
Participants are groomed for various leadership roles in the community. Some graduates, for instance, have joined the Siouxland Unidad Latina board. Others have started their own businesses, Perdue said.
Loera was already running his own business when he completed the training program last year. Five years ago, he moved from California to find a new job in Siouxland. Looking to serve a large Guatemalan population in Wakefield, Neb., he opened his first Oasis Auto Sound location in that Wayne County community. The business originally offered clothing and wire transfers of money, and later expanded into car sound systems and alarms.
Four months ago, he opened his Oasis Auto Sound location on West Seventh Street. Loera said he enrolled in the immigrant leadership training program to learn more about the community, everything from the local schools and municipal governments to individual rights of citizens.
"It wanted to know how to get involved in the community so I could give back to the community," he said.
Perdue said many Latino business owners make significant contributions to their communities. They include DeAnda Auto owner Arturo DeAnda, named "Latina of the Year" last year at an awards banquet coordinated by Siouxland Unidad Latina. DeAnda was recognized for his financial contributions for local Cinco de Mayo celebrations, La Casa Latina and a number of youth soccer teams, not only in the Sioux City area but also Storm Lake, Norfolk and Omaha.
DeAnda, who came to Siouxland in the early 1970s to work at the then-IBP plant in Dakota City, started DeAnda Auto Sales in South Sioux City in 1994. His used car business has grown to include locations in Moville and Storm Lake. His customers include both Latinos and non-Latinos.
Perdue said the recent survey of minority-owned businesses in South Sioux City found that more than 70 percent feel they can read, write, speak and understand English well. Though the majority of their current customers are Latinos, most owners expressed an interest in expanding to serve all ethnic groups, he said.
By Dave Dreeszen - Business Journal editor - Sioux City Business Journal
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