DALTON, Ga. — When Francisco Palacios first came to the United States from Mexico, he said he was offended if an American business owner said to him, “Thank you for your business.”
He explained, “It made me think that’s all they want from me. ... But it was harmless, and it is still harmless. It’s just cultural.”
Now a small-business owner himself, Mr. Palacios will speak during one of a series of seminars here aimed at helping minority entrepreneurs transcend cultural differences and succeed in the U.S. marketplace.
The University of Georgia Small Business Development Center, or the SBDC, is holding the six free seminars throughout June. Each three-hour seminar covers issues that affect every business person, from marketing to writing a business plan, said Jerry Sims, the SBDC’s area director.
“Some of them are facing the various issues that regular business owners face,” Mr. Sims said. But, “Some of them feel like there could be barriers that are related to minorities.”
In Dalton — where the Hispanic minority is arguably now the majority in some venues — that barrier is often language. Latin American immigrants started arriving here in large numbers during the 1990s to work for carpet factories.
The number of minority-owned businesses in Georgia increased by 55 percent between 1997 and 2002, compared to an 18 percent rise in total number of Georgia businesses.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, Minority Business Development Agency
TO LEARN MORE
To find out more about the minority business seminars, call (706) 272-2700.
The 2000 census calculated the Hispanic population at 40 percent in the city, and some experts say the percentage is actually higher.
Mr. Sims, referring to Spanish-speaking business owners, said, “You take someone who is not that fluent in English, there may be some hurdles.”
But language isn’t the only barrier for Hispanics, said Mr. Palacios, who owns a Mexican grocery store and works as a marketing consultant for area businesses.
Many Hispanics haven’t been to college, he said, and embark on business ventures with a lot of passion but little business acumen.
“The vast majority of Hispanics just do it from the heart,” Mr. Palacios said. “They do it because they know it’s good to own your own business, but don’t have the basic knowledge of how to run the business.”
These hurdles haven’t stopped Hispanic businesses from thriving in Dalton. The East Side of town is bustling with Hispanic businesses, selling everything from boots to fresh meat to pan dulce.
Melanie Suggs, director of the Dalton-Whitfield Economic Development Authority, said it’s tough to track the minority businesses in Dalton. But, she said, “It seems like the numbers are growing.”
These Hispanic businesses often cater mostly to other Hispanics.
Colombian native Jaime Riano is attending the SBDC seminars because he wants to learn about U.S. business culture and how to broaden his appeal to market to non-Hispanics.
“I think every minority business should do this (seminar),” Mr. Riano said. “Sometimes they focus on one market, and there are other markets they can focus on.”