Chicago this weekend is hoping to attract 300 future Latino businessmen interested in getting information about how to open businesses and increase the contribution of immigrants to the city's economy.
The first of a series of quarterly workshops will be held on Saturday for three hours at the National Museum of Mexican Art in the heavily Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood organized by the municipal Office of New Americans and Department of Business Affairs & Consumer Protection.
"Instead of making them come to city hall, we're going to bring services to the communities and in their language," New Americans director Adolfo Hernández said.
The first workshop will be in Spanish, because it will be directed toward people interested in small business and Latino entrepreneurs, but then other workshops will be held aimed at Koreans, Poles and Africans "and at everyone who is interested in the city's growth," Hernández told Efe.
Salvador Pedroza, the president of the chamber of commerce in the Mexican neighborhood of Little Village/La Villita, said that in his part of town there are some 1,200 businesses owned by Latinos, most of them Mexican immigrants.
It is estimated that Latinos own some 56,000 businesses in Chicago and its suburbs employing some 70,000 people and that in 2011 they took in some $2.2 billion in revenues.
A recent study by the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame said that Latinos have an important role in the economic panorama of greater Chicago, due to their numbers and buying power, as well as because they are entrepreneurs and creators of jobs.
Pedroza said that the economic crisis has hit the businesses of La Villita rather hard, and some emblematic companies have failed, but other entrepreneurs have also launched businesses.
It is toward those people specifically that the efforts of the office led by Hernández are directed.
Hernández assumed his post three months ago with the mission of converting Chicago into the best city in the world for welcoming immigrants.
The workshops will offer information about how to start a business, the city's rules for operating them, how to connect with chambers of commerce and other community resources.
"For many people, access to the information is part of the problem, how to navigate the process of permits and licenses without speaking English, what resources the state, federal government ... offer," Hernández said.
"In three hours, you can come in and leave with the information you need," he added.
Pedroza said that the chamber looks favorably on the city's preference for small businesses, but in his opinion the campaign should also attract quality stores to fill the empty spaces created by the crisis.
Also, established businessmen need some type of incentive to compensate them for their customers' parking expenses and "for the inspectors to stop looking at (them) with a magnifying glass seeking fines" that can be charged against them, Pedroza said.