Hispanic-owned businesses hard hit by recession

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The numbers are dramatic. Four years ago, California had 720,000 Hispanic owned businesses. The total has shrunk by 120,000. However, Hispanic business leaders holding their annual convention in San Jose say they've seen some promising signs in the past few months.

"When we have an economy that's suffering like the one we have now -- a depressed economy -- we actually see more entrepreneurial efforts," said James Duran with the Hispanic Chamber of Silicon Valley. "What happens when you lose your job after one year, you say, 'Hey, I'm not finding another job. I'm going to start my own business."

In one room, budding entrerpreneurs are taught how to use Facebook and other social media to market themselves. In another, they're being coached how to pitch for business loans. Margie Sanchez took the plunge four years ago, leaving a corporate job at Apple to start a solar screen company in her garage. She now has three people working for her with a goal to hire even more.

"I look forward to putting people to work. I really do," said Sanchez. "I visualize having eight trucks in the next year or two. I really do want that, and I really do see that happening."

However, surviving the tough economy makes it difficult to keep people working. Pedro Perez, the owner of J.P. Paving, had 28 people working during boom times.

"Right now I have 19 employees on my crews," said Perez. "Everybody's experienced, and they're working hard. We're all kind of pulling together."

Finding opportunities to bid on new jobs is crucial. For years, small business owners would tap into their home equity and credit cards to start or stay afloat. That's no longer possible with the drop in real estate values.

"That was what they leveraged to start their business or to sustain their business so obviously from that we lose some businesses," said Roy Perez with the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.

The statewide Hispanic Chamber recognizes other minority businesses are also hurting. So they're reaching out to work with African-American and Asian-American small owners to work together.

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