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07/27/2013

La Luz Explores New Challenge

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BY PAM GIBSON SPECIAL TO THE INDEX-TRIBUNE

Source: http://www.sonomanews.com/News-2013/La-Luz-explores-new-challenge/

Jul 25, 2013 - 07:10 PM

La Luz Center took a big step into the promotion of economic vitality in the Springs this week when it hosted its first business breakfast.

Geared toward both Anglo and Latino businesses, the event drew representatives from both communities and the organizers learned that overcoming fear, building trust, and creating business networks may be as important as providing training and loans.

Facilitator for the event at Hanna Boys Center was Davin Cardenas, who called on business representatives to share their knowledge and experiences.

Most of the speakers present, who had existing businesses, operated on a cash basis.

Relying on loans was not their culture, and those who had tried to get a loan or had resorted to taking advances on their credit cards, did not always have a positive experience with banks. Many said they stay away from banks, fearing they “take advantage of small business owners.”

If La Luz is successful in its business outreach efforts, it might have an alternative to traditional lending. Simon Blattner, local philanthropist and businessman, has offered to seed a revolving loan program earmarked for Springs businesses. “This would be low-cost loans for entrepreneurship,” he said. While help exists for those needing training, there is very little money available and it’s frustrating, he said. Blattner explained his group would be separate from La Luz, but is looking at La Luz to provide leadership. He agreed that building trust is a major obstacle and overcoming it can bring real value.

But some of the speakers placed greater value on business education. There was general agreement that people have to learn how to operate a business before they open one. Teresita Fernandez, a successful business owner in the Springs, suggested offering a class with basic steps outlining how to get a business started and what is needed to be successful. Others in the room suggested topics like cash flow, licenses, liability insurance, bookkeeping and marketing would all be good topics.

First District Supervisor Susan Gorin, along with representatives of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board outlined county programs that are re-emerging after the demise of redevelopment, such as lending programs and façade improvement grants.

While funded, the programs still need to be implemented, but that will come soon.

“I see my role as an intermediary” said Gorin. She added that she can help cut through red tape and help people through the regulatory process. As the Springs Highway 12 project is completed, there may be other infrastructure needs that will revitalize the area. “The Springs is a priority,” Gorin said.

But the trust issue was still at the forefront of each discussion, as was gathering more participants. As one participant said, “there’s power in numbers.” To get more people to attend a meeting, it was suggested that La Luz might be a more comfortable location, where people can feel free to talk, tell their stories and explain their needs in a more casual setting. A committee, headed by La Luz Executive Director Juan Hernandez, will host a second meeting in October.