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.”
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.”