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Latino Expo Biggest of Its Kind in U.S.

September 06, 2000|Lee Romney

About 5,000 entrepreneurs are expected to gather Monday and Tuesday at the Los Angeles Convention Center for the Latin Business Assn.'s annual expo, making it the country's largest Latino business gathering.

The event, which last year drew businesses with an average of 27 employees and $2.7 million in annual sales, aims to foster business relationships between Latino enterprises and corporate America. Unlike many expos, however, the LBA undertakes a months-long process to match corporate buyers with appropriate potential suppliers.

Businesses are screened and, if they need it, assisted with their promotional materials and sales pitches by the LBA's nonprofit institute. They are then paired with corporations that have specified which products and services they are looking to buy.

The one-on-one meetings last year generated $40 million in contracts for participants, said LBA chairwoman Ruth Lopez Williams. This year's expo will host 1,000 appointments with local and national corporations and 100 with international companies. The goal: to generate $75 million in contracts.

Even for businesses that don't seal an instant deal, the meetings go beyond the normal meet-and-greet common at expos, establishing relationships that can yield results later. Corporations are provided with material on the interviewees well in advance of the expo and generally send representatives with the authority to make purchasing decisions.

Yvonne Castillo Wasson, president of Industry-based Pacific Graphics Inc., had half a dozen appointments last year--Staples Center and Bank of America among them. Though they didn't result in immediate contracts, she was recently asked to bid on a Bank of America job.

"The main thing is getting them to know you and be aware of what you can really do," said Castillo Wasson, whose 12-year-old print communication business will add six members to its 17-person staff this year.

The expo also features an exhibition hall that this year will include "dot-coms" and telecommunications companies from Florida and Texas as well as companies from the Mexican state of Jalisco and several South American countries.

The LBA also will honor outstanding Latina entrepreneurs at a breakfast Monday. Winners include:

* Martha C. de la Torre, founder of El Clasificado, a Los Angeles-based Spanish-language advertising publication. De la Torre served as chief financial officer of La Opinion before co-founding El Clasificado in 1988 with her now-husband, certified public accountant Joe Badame. Annual sales exceed $2.5 million.

* Rosario Ramirez Girard, who started Phoenix Construction Services in 1992 in Riverside with $5,000 borrowed from her retirement account. Annual sales exceed $3.2 million and customers include Metrolink, the Alameda Corridor and Caltrans. The company specializes in the engineering, construction and maintenance of railroad bridges and rights-of-way.

* Anita G. Ron, owner and founder of Briteworks, a West Covina-based janitorial service. Founded in 1997 and financed with credit card debt, the company has grown from $9,000 in revenue its first year to $100,000 last year.

For more information on the expo, call the LBA at (323) 721-4000 or

visit Registration fee is $50 for LBA members and $65 for nonmembers.

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