The month-long celebration of Dominican Heritage in February got off to a distinctly female start this past Wed., Feb. 1st at Eugenia María de Hostos Community College in the Bronx.
Dominican and Dominican-American women from various fields of government, finance, and business, arrived in the early morning at Hostos’s campus to share information on resources available to small business owners.
It was a meeting of the minds in a forum entitled “A Small Business Seminar with Distinguished Dominican Women in Government,” which also offered more than its fair share of personal tales of immigrant families.
“The women on today’s panel are leaders in our community. I want them and minority-owned businesses to think of us here at Hostos as partners. We are committed to partnering with small businesses in order to expand professional opportunities for our future leaders who are here in our college,” said Hostos President Felix V. Matos-Rodriguez in his opening remarks.
Event moderator Dean Ana Garcia-Reyes echoed the need for the university’s members to collaborate with small businesses.
“President Barack Obama has placed a strong emphasis on workforce development and the need of the community college to connect with the surrounding community and to create opportunities that leads to jobs,” said Reyes, who also helped to organize the event. “In order to be as realistic as possible, we have to connect with small businesses.”
The forum was designed to engage with women leaders within federal, city and state agencies that are actively offering assistance to minority and women-owned businesses.
After a small breakfast buffet, the morning-long seminar was underway.
Alejandra Castillo, National Deputy Director of the State Department of Commerce/Small Business Administration, was the first to speak.
“I hope everyone had their coffee and a bite to eat because we are about to do some work,” said Castillo, as she delved into her experience in the Bronx as a young girl, and spoke of childhood memories of driving with her father in the family station wagon.
“Kids don’t know what a station wagon is because now we call them mini-vans,” laughed Castillo.
She then explained in detail what the Minority Business Development Agency does, how it can help individual business owners in the area, and offered tips on what can be done to make sure each business succeeds as its own entity, such as partnering up with other small businesses in order to benefit from bundled contracts from the government.
Councilmember Diana Reyna, chair of the Small Business Committee on the New York City Council, shared her story of the importance of numbers, one figure in particular: Number 56.
“What do Dominican men do when they want to be their own boss? They go into the livery cab business,” said Councilmember Reyna, who said her own father was more commonly known as “Numero 56,” his number as a driver at a livery cab base than he was by his own name.
Councilmember Reyna, who represents Queens, lauded the industrious nature of entrepreneurs such as her father. She told of how he, along with 200 other livery cab drivers, collected $200 each and purchased the building that houses the base.
“He is still number 56,” offered Councilmember Reyna. “He is sixty-plus years old, and has the will to continue to work because he sweats equity into the livery cab business,” said Reyna, who stressed the need to own property in order to better sustain one’s economic fortunes.
Yrtha Dinzey-Flores, Chief Diversity Officer of New York State and State Cabinet member of Governor Andrew Cuomo, pointed up “[that], in New York City more than 50% of businesses are small businesses. The greatest share of businesses that are growing and expanding is owned by women, and there is a tremendous opportunity here for economic development,” said Dinzey-Flores.
Elizabeth De Leon, Esq., Deputy Commissioner of New York City Small Business Administration, who said she felt “like the daughter and colleague of so many” at the event, shared insight on the dynamics of how her office works with small business owners.
“We say [to ourselves], ‘Speak the language,’ when people walk into the office,” said De Leon. “[People] ask ‘What’s a business plan?’, and I say “Muy fácil.”
Leon added, “I tell them, ‘You are already doing this. This is just something we are going to show you how to do better.”
When the panel turned to a question and answer session, some of the concerns raised spoke to issues specific to business owners in urban communities.
“Most of the bodegueros in our neighborhoods are getting robbed, because they keep too much money on the premises,” said Lilliam Perez, Senior Advisor and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman. “They don’t do any banking. How do we get them to use resources?” asked Perez.
“That is a really big problem in our community,” agreed SBA Director Castillo. “We need to get to a place where, as a community, we are stepping away from what we are accustomed to. [We need to be] resourceful to be able to have efficient small businesses in the community,” said Castillo.
The forum, an open dialogue on resource-sharing, goal-setting and the importance of family, led many of the participants to consider initiating similar charlas [talks].
“Because this seminar was so successful, we now need to consider hosting a series [like] this one,” explained Dean Garcia Reyes. “We see that it’s a real service to the community and overall business sector.”
Originial Posted on The Bronx Free Press