GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A Latino business owner in Grand Rapids says the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s planned $9.5 million headquarters is a “game-changer.”
The chamber intends to turn a former manufacturing building on Godfrey Avenue SW north of Hall Street into a new hub for Latino business leaders across the region.
“It’s going to be a game-changer to new entrepreneurs in the area but also the economic growth of the Hispanics in the area,” said Ishmael Abreu, a first-generation American and a successful Latino business owner.
Hispanic Chamber President Guillermo Cisneros said most training for business owners is in English. He said that has created a barrier for Spanish speakers to develop their business. That’s why staff at the new center will provide training for Latino business owners in their language.
Abreu contracts for Farmers Insurance and owns two locations in Grand Rapids and Wyoming, helping more than 2,000 clients. Spanish is his first language. He said many Latino entrepreneurs in West Michigan are first-generation and Spanish-speaking.
“Having that support of how things work here in the United States in their own language, learning about accounting, business plan, marketing, how to manage employees, it’s priceless to have it in your own language,” he said.
The $9 million HQ project is made possible by a $5 million contribution from the state budget, which Cisneros called a “historic” investment.
“In the history of the Latino community in this region, it has been a little over 100 years, we have never experienced this investment before,” Cisneros said. “This historic investment from the state is going to help us build the infrastructure that is needed by our community to continue to thrive.”
The renovated center will have conference rooms fitting 200 people, a commercial kitchen to help future restaurant owners start up their craft and a collaborative space for business owners to work together.
“We want to make sure that we create a hub where everyone can connect with the community,” Cisneros said.
The chamber is also planning on accommodating up to 25 staff members in the new building. Cisneros said they will provide business owners with technical assistance, connections and resources.
“This is something we have been waiting for a long time,” Cisneros added. “We don’t have spaces like this led by Latinos for Latinos that can bring investment.”
West Michigan’s Latino population is projected to grow by 130% by 2024, Cisneros said. He argues the community should be ready to help the next generation prosper.
“Our Latino business community is stagnant. It’s not growing,” Cisneros said. “We need to make sure they have the resources they need to be able to not just make their sales for one year or the next two years; we want to make sure it’s a creation of wealth and this wealth passes onto the next generation of Latinos. We are not seeing that right now.”
He added conversations about Latino prosperity should continue far beyond Hispanic Heritage Month.
“We need to focus on connecting with Hispanics every month, not just once, one time during the year,” Cisneros said. “We can’t wait to show our community what can happen if our community partners with Latinos. We are here to make amazing contributions to the economy and the community.”
Construction is expected to start on the chamber’s new headquarters next spring. Cisneros said it should open by the end of 2024.