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State outreach to Latino-owned business reaps rewards

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Goya Foods President Robert Unanue gives New Jersey state officials credit for clearing the way for his company to remain in New Jersey when it had a chance to leave.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and "the whole administration from top to bottom have been very cooperative," particularly in helping the company locate at a Jersey City site with a rail siding, Unanue said.

Goya is one of the several Latino-owned businesses being highlighted by state officials, including Guadagno, as New Jersey marks Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

The state has hired bilingual business advocates to answer calls from Spanish-speaking business owners at its Business Action Center, which includes a one-stop call center for accessing state services for businesses. The state also is providing assistance at the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce annual convention and expo on Oct. 30, at which Guadagno is scheduled to give the keynote address.

Unanue listed the combination of incentives — Goya received an $81.9 million Urban Transit Hub tax credit — and assistance with rail as being crucial. He added that the state is a good location for a company with wide distribution.

"In our business, it's all about logistics — and New Jersey represents just a terrific logistics point," Unanue said.

In particular, state officials helped Norfolk Southern contact NJ Transit to buy some land owned by the transit authority adjacent to the Goya property.

Guadagno said her office serves as an advocate for companies as large as Goya to much smaller businesses. She added that the state's roughly 68,000 Latino-owned businesses can put a large dent in the state's unemployment numbers.

"We feel it's important, like any other business in New Jersey, the Hispanic small businesses feel they're welcome here, and get all of the support they're entitled to," from advocacy to technical assistance to incentives, Guadagno said.

Statewide Hispanic chamber Chairman Carlos A. Medina said he has had a positive impression of state outreach since he started in his position in June.

Medina, owner of Robinson Aerial Surveys Inc., in Hackettstown, noted that the state invited a group of Latino business owners to a roundtable to share their thoughts about state business services.

"They wanted feedback from us," he said. "It was a pretty frank discussion, and it was right after I become chairman."

The annual convention will feature representatives from 10 to 12 state departments, discussing services from financing to procurement, "to help start a business, grow a business and get work for a business," Medina said. "They are expending a pretty large amount of resources to be a major presence."

Guadagno said the state is working with the chamber "to bring Trenton to these small businesses, that wouldn't otherwise reach out to Trenton."

Timothy Lizura, president and chief operating officer of the Economic Development Authority, said the agency offers its full range of business financing services to Latino-owned businesses. It relies on partnerships with the Cranford-based UCEDC and the Camden-based Latin American Economic Development Association to reach out to smaller Latino-owned businesses.

"We actually recognized years ago that, while the EDA provided technical assistance to very small companies as they developed business plans — including the Hispanic businesses — we realized that we could do a better job of leveraging with other organizations," Lizura said.

Low-interest loans through these smaller agencies have averaged $25,000 to $40,000 in recent years, reaching a niche that isn't served by larger EDA programs.

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