Closing the Gap conference seeks to help Philly’s Latino business owners recover from the pandemic

With an eye on what’s next for small businesses in the post-pandemic economy, the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is holding its 2022 Closing the Gap conference on Thursday, June 23.

The seventh annual event will focus on providing Latino small business owners with the connections and skills needed to adjust and recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. During the half-a-day event, participants will learn about hiring, marketing and corporate culture from executives and industry leaders in Philadelphia.

Jennifer Rodriguez, President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said these topics are where Latinos small businesses need support and improvement.

“At times, it’s very difficult for a Latino small business owner to find consulting and professional advice at a rate that they can pay for, especially in these areas that are of direct impact on the company’s growth.”

According to a September 2020 report published by McKinsey & Company, Hispanic- and Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. produce about half of their revenue in the economic sectors hardest hit during the pandemic — including leisure and hospitality, retail trade, transportation and construction. The report also considered the community a key population in the country’s recovery from the global health crisis.

Despite the acknowledgement, Rodriguez said Latino business owners struggle with access to lending and capital, as most rely on personal credit cards and financing gathered from family and friends to start and sustain their businesses. She said most owners tend to be overwhelmed with the business’ work load, as they are self-employed with little to no staff. Only 4% of the 22,000 Latino-owned businesses in the Philly region hire staff, according to Rodriguez.

“There is a critical need for investment and support in these areas, in order to help Latino small businesses expand and grow.”

The conference will be held in person, at Esperanza in North Philadelphia’s Latino-dense Hunting Park neighborhood.

Starting at 8:30 a.m., the event kicks off with a panel discussion between real estate development leaders María González, President of HACE, Tayyib Smith of The Growth Collective, and Randell Torres, CEO of the Greenstar Group. The conversation will dive into Latinos’ participation and opportunities for growth in the real estate industry.

This year, the program includes workshops on branding techniques, project management skills and best practices to foster a good company culture, with experts and professors from Temple University, Comcast and Independence Blue Cross. A mini-expo will connect business owners with organizations and liaisons providing resources and guidance to Latinos in need of hiring employees, obtaining a city license and more.

The event registration is free for members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Tickets for non-members cost $35. The non-profit organization is offering a special membership discount to new members who choose to auto-renew at sign up.

Rodriguez said the conference’s program is based on membership surveys and feedback the Chamber of Commerce received from business owners who participate in their Accelerate Latinx, Camino al Éxito and Build Latino professional development programs.

Radhi Fernández, an alum of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Accelerate Latinx program, is eager to attend the conference. Even though his work load is quite hectic, the owner of The Faiya Company said he looks forward to the people he will meet. Networking at these events has led him to partnerships and connections with experts and other business owners who support his all-natural hot sauce production.

“I’ve been able to learn how to get a permit, where to find commercial insurance and financial support with other business owners at these gatherings and that’s such a relief.”

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