GOSHEN — The room was full and the conversation was loud as nearly 45 businesses and organizations packed into the Community Center at Ivy Tech for the Indiana Latino Business Expo, hosted by the Center for Healing and Hope this week.
The expo, now in its second year, drew close to 300 people, organizers said.
It shed light on Latino owners and entrepreneurs in Elkhart County and provided attendees an opportunity to network and find out what local Latino businesses can offer them.
People made rounds in the crowded room with some speaking in Spanish and in English.
Exhibits set up at the event ranged from radio stations like Radio Horizonte to independent distributors like Herbalife, to local services and businesses like Interra Credit Union and Spirit Storage Delivery and Warehousing.
Representatives from the Elkhart and Goshen chambers of commerce, Community Foundation of Elkhart County, and Horizon Education Alliance were all at the expo to meet with attendees and inform them of the resources they can offer to support the local business owners.
The Indiana Latino Business Expo is the only expo in the state that supports and connects Latino businesses to each other and to the broader community, according to Bryan Mierau, executive director of Center for Healing and Hope.
The expo formed after the clinic hosted an open house for business owners in 2017.
“The need was that the Latino community businesses don’t really know each other that well,” said Mierau. “And since CHH has these natural connections with the Latino community – 65 percent of our patients speak Spanish – we felt like we could extend that more not only for our benefit as a clinic to gain Latino business support for our mission, but to also build additional bridges into the community to extend our relational connections with Latino Community to the broader community.”
Last year, the expo was called the Latino Business Expo and a taskforce changed it this year to Indiana Latino Business Expo since there’s no other known Latino business expo in the state, organizers said.
“We want to be able to represent all of Indiana,” said Adriana Garcia-Bontreger, a member of the expo’s committee and branch manager at Centier Bank. “There is a large poll of businesses that are Latino that want to be part of the community and this just gives them that source – an area where they can cultivate, network and show off their product and services to the community.”
Several businesses were represented at the event for the first time. Spirit Storage Delivery and Warehouse owner Nancy DeMarco signed up for the expo to network and engage with other local business owners.
“It surprised me how many people are here and the variety of the different vendors that are on hand,” she said. “I think this is a good way to network with people and hopefully new businesses in the Latino community will know that there are resources out there for them to grow.”
Kyle Hannon, executive director at the Ivy Tech Elkhart County campus, said the event was an asset in helping fulfill a mission at the campus.
“We have a strong Latino Student Alliance and we’re always trying to improve that tie between the Latino community and the offerings at Ivy Tech, so we were happy to host this event at our campus,” he said.
Speaking on the turnout, Garcia-Bontreger said this year’s expo has grown about 50 percent from the first year as more Latino businesses learn about the expo and adapt to the networking concept.
“We’re thriving and we’re excited to see what the next couple of years will bring us,” she said.