Business expo carries on despite sour economy

FRESNO -- During an economic crisis dogged by high unemployment rates, layoffs and a stock market bludgeoned by severe drops, it was business as usual for the Central California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's 23rd annual business expo last Friday.

"We want people to learn about the businesses of the chamber and what they offer. Some people don't know what services or products are out there, so we hold this expo not only to inform the public, but also to encourage businesses within the chamber to network with one another," said chamber president Mark Lozada.

The 'Harvesting the Future of Central California Business' expo at the Radisson Hotel drew approximately 200 people, a drop from last year's numbers.

Lozada says the weak economy and consumer confidence are to blame for the low turn-out.

"I don't think people are willing to take risks locally or nationally if they don't start believing things will get better," said Lozada.

"When people hear about the unstable markets, they start to panic and hold on to whatever money they have and that in turn, has an impact on businesses. Here at the chamber, we want to stimulate business growth, encourage businesses within the chamber to learn about one another's services and products and for those that have that entrepreneurial spirit, to ask questions and find the resources they need to get started," said Lozada.

Former chamber president José Plascencia said the low turn out is not unusual for the expo, but a general trend in the business world.

"The economy has had an impact on participation at any event, anywhere. The masses are not here, but the critical people are, like those that take initiative and are decision-makers. There is something to be said about the businesses that are here today and it's that they are working and weathering this economic climate and that should send a strong signal to others out there, that it's absolutely possible to start a business right now," said Plascencia.

As expo attendees browsed through dozens of booths set up with colorful displays of information, they had the opportunity to learn about the latest business technology, leadership and trade via a string of free workshops lead by community leaders and business representatives. Some expressed optimism, suggesting the weak economy offers many opportunities to those who want to start a business.

"There is no better time to start a small business than in a recession," said Carlos Mendoza, district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration and the chamber's 2011 Central California Champion Award recipient.

"Yes, the recession has put a lot of businesses out of work, but that in turn has created all these available opportunities for people who have always dreamed of starting a new business. Now is the time for them to step up to the plate and make it happen," said Mendoza who credits corporations like Microsoft and FedEx as two small businesses turned major corporation who got started during a recession and have continued to prosper.

Mendoza says spurring small business is key to getting out of the recession.

"I believe many businesses have closed because they were not prepared for an economic meltdown. Entrepreneurs need to be better informed. They need to re-evaluate the way they conduct business by looking at their most profitable products and those that sell the least. They need to make sure they are cutting costs and focus more on what is making up their profit margins," said Mendoza.

For those that need help finding ways to make their business prosper, Mendoza says the chamber gives information about valley partners who can give them the necessary tools to make their business grow while still maintaining that competitive edge.

Some expo visitors said the weak economy has not had a negative impact on their business.

"We are growing," said Catherine Cousins, a degree completion program representative from Fresno Pacific University.

"We are expanding our undergraduate and masters program because we are seeing many people going back to school. Our business program is growing too--many professionals are returning to school to learn more about business trends," said Cousins.

Getting an education is a trend the Mexican Consulate hopes more Latinos will turn to, in order to become successful leaders who have the capability to start and make businesses grow.

"In order to harvest business, we have to start by first educating our population," said Mexican consul Reyna Torres-Mendivil, the invited guest speaker at the expo's luncheon.

Starting this year, the Mexican government will give more promotion to IME scholarships (Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior) in order to help educate the growing Mexican-American population in the valley.

"There are amazing stories of Hispanics doing great things in the U.S. but we need to pay attention to higher education in our community. In the future, it will shape the destiny of our two countries and the future of business growth in this community," she said.

Students like Steven Herevia, a junior at Fresno Pacific, agrees that an education is important, especially to potential employers.

"The baby boomers are retiring and the job market is changing. When you have students with a quality education, they will surely make good candidates for the jobs that are being vacated by retirees," said Herevia who hopes the job market will get better in the next two years.

"I think the economy, the job market and education are all undergoing major changes. It's too hard to say what will happen to our economy in the future. We'll have to wait and see what happens and hope it gets better," he said.

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