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Hispanic Interest


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  • | 6:04 a.m. November 9, 2012
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You won't be surprised to hear that Hispanic business owners have the same complaints about Collier County government as their Anglo counterparts.

Here's a biggie: “Minimize the amount of time it takes to get through the permitting process,” says Andrew Solis, an attorney with Cohen & Grigsby in Naples who heads up the Council of Hispanic Business Professionals.

While Solis says county government officials have made progress in making government more business-friendly, he says speeding the permitting process will make the climate more encouraging for entrepreneurs.

This is a new direction for the Hispanic council, which until Solis became president last year served mostly as a social club. In response to members' demands, Solis has turned the organization into more of a business organization. “They want real networking opportunities,” he says. “We have speakers who talk about the issues.”

As a result, membership in the Collier-based group has doubled to 50 members and Solis plans to double that again next year. The organization now plays an active role in the new economic development efforts in Collier spearheaded by the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce.

The potential is there. At 26.3%, Collier County has the highest percentage of Hispanic population of any county on the Gulf Coast from Pasco south. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 15.5% of the businesses in Collier are Hispanic-owned out of a total 38,309 firms.

This isn't the only effort to unite Hispanics on the Gulf Coast. Joel Stewart, an immigration attorney with Fowler White Boggs, has formed the Florida Gulf Coast Brazilian Chamber of Commerce recently. He's been holding gatherings of the fledgling organization at Fowler White's offices in Fort Myers and Tampa.

“They're entrepreneurs like Americans are,” says Stewart, who also serves as general counsel for the Brazilian consulate in Miami. Many Brazilian artisans and craftsmen came to the Gulf Coast during the real estate boom.

Both organizations are seeking to bridge their Latino communities to encourage networking and trade. “Our goal is not just to service and support the Hispanic business community,” says Solis. “We're trying to be a bridge.”

Solis says the challenge is that the Hispanic community is not homogenous. Cultures and political persuasions vary from one national origin to another. “We leave politics out of it,” says Solis, a first-generation Cuban American.

Meanwhile, Stewart says it's important to encourage Florida businesses invest in Brazil. “You have to have it go both ways,” he says.

Brazilians need services such as construction, energy and expertise in infrastructure. “What Brazilians want from us is technology,” Stewart says.

Stewart says Florida business interest in Brazil is strong. He points to a trade mission that Florida Gov. Rick Scott led last year as evidence. “It was an enormous group,” says Stewart, who traveled with the mission that included 25 people from the Gulf Coast.

Meanwhile, Brazilians are buying farmland in Florida, Stewart says. They're interested in orange groves to diversify their growing season and expanding livestock operations. “They recognize that farmland is relatively inexpensive,” Stewart says.

Brazilians are also coming to Florida for medical services. Stewart says 17 doctors at the Cleveland Clinic in Weston are Brazilian.

 

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