Calling all Howard Hispanic business owners

Ramos is trying to start a chamber of commerce for a growing minority

January 14, 2002|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

With the Hispanic population growing in Howard County, Charles Ramos thinks the time is right for a business group to serve that segment of the community - a Hispanic chamber of commerce.

Ramos, president of the 8-year-old CR Dynamics Inc., is sending letters to contacts, hoping to generate interest in Howard County for a business group to provide information, guidance and networking.

"We're throwing a flare up in the air and saying if you're out there, let us know," said Ramos, who serves on the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and a group that is organizing a Hispanic business convention in Baltimore.

The Hispanic population is one of the fastest-growing segments in Howard County. According to the U.S. Census, the Hispanic population more than doubled in the county from 1990 to 2000, from 3,699 to 7,490.

The Hispanic business population is increasing as well, according to figures from the Census Bureau's economic census. There were 455 Hispanic businesses in Howard County in 1997, the year for which the most recent statistics are available. That's up from 272 in 1992.

Numbers like that give Ramos the idea that there are enough Hispanic companies to organize a Hispanic chamber in Howard. Pockets of Hispanic business communities around the state are uniting under the banner of the state Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, he said. But in Howard County, it seems Hispanic business owners have stayed beneath the radar, not meeting among themselves, or attending events with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

Both the Howard chamber and the county's Economic Development Authority have said they would be making a greater effort to reach those minority communities.

"We've had some terrible time getting the Hispanic community - and an even more terrible time with the Asian community - to participate in the [Equal Business Opportunity] committee," said Richard W. Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority.

"To my knowledge, there's not been an attempt [by Hispanic business owners] in the eight years I've been here to organize," Story said.

Michael Haines, director of business development for the authority, said his efforts to start an initiative have floundered because he has not found the right group in the county to work through.

"My original plan was to work through [the Foreign-born Information and Referral Network], but that is not the true business community," he said. "There are still plans to work that area, but we're no further ahead than we were a year ago."

Even Ramos, who has been heavily involved with the state Hispanic chamber, serving as vice president, is unfamiliar with Howard County's Hispanic business community. He doesn't know any Hispanic business owners in the county, but he is starting with a list of 20 owners that other contacts have passed on, writing letters to them, and inviting them to participate in the chamber. He hopes the group will have its first meeting by the end of next month.

"My mission is that we provide assistance to Hispanic businesses that want to be empowered, that want to realize the opportunities the state and federal governments want to provide," Ramos said.

"It's really important to me to know the rest of the Hispanic community is not being left behind," he said. "If you're not standing there waving your flag, making sure you're getting your share of the state's pie, you're not going to get it."

One of the things Ramos would stress to Hispanic business leaders, for example, is to get the business certified with the state and federal governments as a Hispanic business. Ramos said it made a difference for him with CR Dynamics, a telemarketing outsource company, as the firm grew from a one-man venture run out of his home to a $2.3 million company last year.

"When you have that certification, procurement folks know you're taking the business seriously," he said. "It opened up many opportunities - higher level procurement officers, people that make things happen."

But more important than being certified, Ramos said, is interacting with other business leaders.

"If you're not networking with people who have the same interests and goals as you, you're walking away from a very strong network," he said. "Even though [Hispanics] are going to be the largest minority, it's one thing to have the numbers, but it's more important to have the economic power."

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