More Latino businesses opening in Birmingham

Even though Birmingham's Hispanic population has remained steady over the past five years, the number of Latino businesses is growing. Jose Antonio Garcia makes jewelry. He opened up his own store on Valley Avenue in Birmingham almost a year ago."I can train other people, I can teach the work of jewelry," said Garcia. "In Alabama, no much jewelers, Hispanic jewelers."Originally from Mexico City, Garcia moved to Alabama 12 years ago. "I think that the more people integrate and make a place their home, they begin to look for ways to provide for their families and if you know how to do a skill then you want to take that and open your own business," explained Isabelle Rubio, Director of the Hispanic interest Coalition of Alabama, or HICA. HICA just started a small business program that Garcia is a part of. "I understand I need more experience, I need a little more in my English language," said Garcia. He admits opening up a business in a new county is challenging. "If I will live in this country, I need to make everything correct," said Garcia. "The economy of this country is the people pay taxes."That's where resources like the Birmingham Business Alliance and HICA come in to play. "We help people from concept to opening the doors and then after that, to helping them understand, you have to file your payroll taxes and all the taxes," said Rubio. "We help them get the licenses. We help them talk through the marketing plan, the business plan. Just however we can be helpful, we are here to do that."The Birmingham Business Alliance has a similar program though its Hispanic Business Council. "As a state, certainly this metropolitan area, we are definitely more inviting," said the Council's chairman, Fernando Valentin. "We are encouraging businesses and we're helping them. We're engaging them. We're giving them those resources."Valentin believes these resources are the reason for the recent surge in Latino entrepreneurship. "I have definitely seen a huge increase as far as emerging Hispanic businesses," said Valentin. "The sophistication of those businesses as well. They use to be mom and pops, but now they're becoming more main stream, industrial type of businesses."For instance, Joel Rivera just opened a second 'Mi Pueblo' super market in Homewood. "The first store was 16,000 square foot. Right now, this is 44,000 square foot. That's three times bigger," explained a proud Rivera.Mi Pueblo employs 110 people. Rubio believes that's the kind of success other Latino business owners can work toward. "I anticipate that this part of our work will grow, which is the exact area that we want to grow because it's really economic integration," Rubio said. "It's helping families break the cycle of poverty and build assets for themselves which is so important."HICA's small business program has helped launch 30 new Latino businesses in the past year and a half in Jefferson and Shelby counties.