Norwalk Hispanics form their own Chamber of Commerce

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s time to build a bridge between Norwalk’s Hispanic community and the non-Hispanic community, according to Mariella Castagnet.

“Good connections we know are key to success,” Castagnet said Tuesday at a press conference held in the South Norwalk Community Center. “Connecting to a growing Hispanic community is vital in today’s economy and we are here to help. The Greater Norwalk Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is your connection to the Hispanic community.”

That’s right, a Greater Norwalk Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which hopes to collaborate with the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce in some ways but aims to raise awareness of Hispanic businesses and promote growth. Castagnet is president of the newly formed chamber; former Common Councilman Warren Peña is interim vice president. Current members include the board of directors and co-founding members Luis Cadena, Norwalk Police officer Cesar Ramirez, Cesar Rendon and Stamford Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Fabian Durango.

“We welcome everybody,” Peña said. “It doesn’t matter what ethnicity someone is, we’re going to be an open chamber. However, our target market clearly is going to be the Hispanic business owners.”

Greater Norwalk Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 15-0331 Norwalk Jefferson 018

South Norwalk Community Center board Chairman Warren Peña speaks Tuesday in the center, with other members of the new Greater Norwalk Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,

The chamber is hoping to sign up 50 new members before its first networking event in early May, hopefully on May 7. The location isn’t set, but members are looking to recruit a restaurant into the fold and have the event there.

“We are going to try to keep everything within the members so they can see the benefit,” Durango said.

The newly formed chamber had its beginning in 2013, when Peña sat down with West Avenue business owner Luis Cadena, Ramirez and Rendon, Peña said.

“We realized there is a huge void here in Norwalk to bring business leaders together, to really begin to organize the Latino community,” Peña said. “So this chamber obviously is all about small businesses. The core of it obviously is always going to make sure that we are educating, we are uplifting the Latino community in Norwalk. As we know, small business owners generate most of the jobs in our country. So in Norwalk it’s time to begin to organize and fill that void here in lower Fairfield County.”

About six months ago the effort began in earnest, he said. The first meetings were held in the South Norwalk Community Center before transitioning to Castagnet’s East Avenue real estate office. Future meetings may be held at the Center, at a Board member’s house or at a member’s business, Peña said.

“Hopefully the city will give us a space to hold our meetings. That would be the goal,” Durango said.

There are about 300 Hispanic businesses in Norwalk, Cadena said, basing that on a survey he did a few years ago in deciding whether to open his hair salon, Why Not Silvia’s, in Norwalk.

“This is also one of the reasons we put this organization together, we need to begin to take a pulse and have a true understanding of how many Hispanic-owned businesses there are here in Norwalk,”  Peña said.

“It is clear that Hispanics are the future of America’s business community,” Castagnet said. “We are seeing that Hispanic businesses have a startup rate that is three times the national average and it is growing. These businesses create jobs and contribute to the American economy. While the chamber caters to business owners who happen to be Hispanic, we are first and foremost American businesse owners. Every tax bill we pay, every job we create and every product we manufacture and every service we provide goes to the benefit of American economy. This is why the chamber is working to strengthen the Hispanic business community. We must create a bridge between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic so together we can create a larger economic engine in Norwalk and southern Connecticut.”


Mrs. Ruby McPherson April 2, 2015 at 9:47 am

Then don’t divide it by using Hispanic. Its always been difficult for others to start a business in Norwalk, whether credit related or short lived because of product. And how many names on the business loan.

Lisa Thomson April 2, 2015 at 10:01 am

I don’t understand what the problem is? A quick scan on the Internet and by no means a complete list of the thousand-odd civic, business, community, homeowner, ethnic or boat club associations that exist.

The Hispaic community is growing – I am pro small business and I think this is great. Btw…here is just a sample list of the ‘civic or community groups’ currently out there in Norwalk: Greek Club, Knights of Columbus, Carver Center, St. Ann’s Club, Chamber of Commerce, Norwalk Land Trust, Norwalk Realtors, American Legion, Masonic Lodge, Norwalk Seniors, Christian Community Action, Norwalk Paranormal Research.

Rod Lopez-Fabrega April 2, 2015 at 10:24 am

Sounds great, Warren.

I’m retired, so small businesses are out of my focus and I have medical and age issues, but I will be as supportive as I can.

Also, I would suggest that you continue to de-emphasize the “ethnicity” issue. As you well know, we Hispanics come in all shapes and sizes and ethnicities.

fedUP April 2, 2015 at 10:47 am

MY GOD. what happened to “One Nation….” what has happened to this country? more and more divisive…keep putting themselves in buckets and then they wonder why they are looked at differently.

LWitherspoon April 2, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Support for Norwalk’s Hispanic small business owners is an excellent idea, but I have doubts about whether Mr. Pena should be part of the leadership. After all, Mr. Pena’s history at SoNoCC includes the inappropriate use of SoNoCC resources to support his failed Common Council campaign. After Mr. Pena’s falling out with full-time volunteer SoNoCC personnel, the election and non-profit law violations came to light, and Mr. Pena repaid the funds. We also learned that Mr. Pena spent thousands of SoNoCC funds on holiday dinners and a table at the Mayor’s Ball at the same time that the organization was facing a major financial crisis. And before that, Mr. Pena’s aunt, who was employed by SoNoCC, took SoNoCC funds and used them for personal needs. The appropriate course of action in that case was for the SoNoCC to dismiss Mr. Pena’s aunt and possibly contact authorities. However Mr. Pena decided that his aunt should keep her job, with the justification that she needed the income in order to pay back the stolen funds!

Piberman April 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Before City officials infatuation with national chains (Route 1 and the mall) Norwalk had an active local small business community whose members were actively engaged in local governance. A Hispanic Chamber whose members actually live in Norwalk ought be welcomed by all. Let’s remember that it’s primarily through developing small businesses that Americans secure the Dream.

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