Annual Hispanic Business Expo Rocks Central Jersey

Now in its seventh year, the Expo has emerged as the premiere Central Jersey networking event for the Hispanic business community.

The Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce hosted its widely-anticipated Hispanic Business Expo, last month at the Pines Manor in Edison, and, as usual, the event delivered as advertised.

The bonanza of a networking event has grown to attract nearly 1,000 business owners, employees, policymakers and exhibitors representing the nonprofit, health care, retail, finance and hospitality sectors.

“Middlesex County is New Jersey’s economic core and the Hispanic business community here is a big reason for that,” said Lina Llona, president of the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

This year's event included a panel discussion that included entrepreneurs Carlos Serrano of Freehold, aka, “the Empanada Guy,” and Hipatia Lopez of Elmwood Park, creator of the Empanada Fork. Ronaldo Linares of Martino's Cuban Restaurant moderated the discussion.
Anybody can make it, but are you willing to go out and do what you want to do?” asked Serrano, who quipped that he “became a multimillionaire by selling empanadas.

“I attacked this business 16 years ago because I was broke and I had no choice,” he later added.

He also offered a sobering contrast to today’s political climate: “No matter what you hear, Latinos are running this country. The spirit is big.”

Lopez encouraged the audience to keep from getting discouraged. “You’ve got to remember that there is always more to get out of life. The opportunities are there, but you just have to go after them,” she said.

Carlos Medina, chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, cited a U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce study, reporting sales from Hispanic-owned businesses contribute more than $668 billion to the U.S. economy, an increase of 29 percent since 2012 and nearly twice the total in 2007.

“It’s about giving back to our community, to our country,” Medina said. “It’s about familia.”

The Chamber’s Lina Llona pointed to the county’s 45-percent increase in the Hispanic population since the 2000 Census, with Latinos comprising 18 percent of the county’s population. She also noted that Hispanics will contribute more than $1.3 trillion to the United States economy in 2016.

“This growing group has significant purchasing power and plays a key role in our region’s economy,” she said.

As the Hispanic community — and particularly its business community — continues to grow, maintaining sustained personal and business relationships is critical, said Luis De La Hoz, a vice president at the Intersect Fund, a New Brunswick-based micro-lender to small business entrepreneurs. De La Hoz also chairs the Small Business Council as a member of the Middlesex Chamber’s board of directors.

“Now in its seventh year, this Expo really is the premiere event for the Hispanic business community to meet new people and explore new opportunities,” he said.

Click here for more scenes from our annual Hispanic Business Expo!