Puerto Rican businesses in Orlando on a growth curve
Orlando, FL — The growing Puerto Rican and Hispanic population is reflected in the growth of businesses in Orlando.
Interest had remained steady during the pandemic, as many businesses opened their doors, while the City of Orlando offers a series of incentives and workshops in Spanish focusing on business development that led to more opportunities and success in Hispanic-owned operations in Florida.
Luis M. Martínez-Alicea, deputy manager of Multicultural Affairs and International Relations for City of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, noted the presence of recognized brands and products from the island, which have been successfully established in Orlando.
However, he advised those with the desire to establish their businesses in Florida to seek advice and listen to others, to learn how to do business outside of Puerto Rico.
“Many Puerto Rican-owned businesses continue to grow in Orlando, and we see many Venezuelan, Colombian, and Mexican entrepreneurs — and more recently from Ecuador — interested in expanding their firms to Orlando,” said Martínez, who offers workshops in Spanish on the different programs and assistance that this municipality has for business owners such as Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) certification.
In 2020, at least 201 Hispanic businesses were certified by the City of Orlando, an increase from the 178 recorded for 2019.
“The workshops had not been offered in Spanish, but I identified over the years in the Hispanic business community the need to get that information from the municipality in our native language, Spanish, and it has been very well-received. Even Hispanics who have lived for a long time in the United States and who are fluent in English, attend these workshops because it’s their native language,” said Martinez.
And that has helped to increase the request for permits and requests for M/WBE certification, he said.
A new business or expansion is a great step for many entrepreneurs and Puerto Rican owners looking for new opportunities, but it is not easy in the beginning. The language barrier and the new culture are challenges that must be confronted.
“The language barrier is always latent, that is the first challenge that every Latin American moving to the United States faces. And apart from that, integrating into the new culture and living in a multicultural community is a process of adaptation that takes a long time, sometimes years,” he said.
“It is especially important to have an open mind and understand that just because you had a stable job in your country or had a reputation in the business industry, a standing in your professional career, does not mean that you will achieve that immediately here. It takes time,” added Martínez.
“Sometimes you must take three or four steps back to move your professional life forward. That happened to me, I still have a bachelor’s in communications, had to work as an entertainment employee at the Walt Disney World company, earning an hourly wage,” he said, recommending that entrepreneurs start off with a good plan to save time and money, and look for assistance with the City of Orlando and other entities depending on their needs.
“First, at our offices. But it is also good to touch base with the different chambers of commerce, professional associations, as well as Prospera, which offers free assistance. And it’s particularly important to connect with other entrepreneurs that already know the way and learn from their experiences,” said Martínez, a Puerto Rican leader who has been with the Orlando Mayor’s Office for nine years and has lived in Orlando for two decades.
In 2018, Orlando ranked No. 4 Best Cities for Women-Owned Businesses by business.org and was qualified as the No. 4 Fastest Growing Cities by Forbes Magazines.
Business spirit is evident
Over the years, Martínez has witnessed the business spirit of many entrepreneurs along with many organizations coming from Puerto Rico to serve and bring their taste and products that many Puerto Ricans know very well and to attract the growing and diverse clientele.
After Hurricane María, more than 300,000 Puerto Ricans temporarily settled in Central Florida to seek assistance, but of that number, approximately 50,000 of them moved permanently. That helped the community to continue in full growth and more companies to expand to the region, he said.
Today, Central Florida has a population of almost or close to 500,000 Puerto Ricans, many Puerto Rican businesses have established themselves in the city and the region, and recognized brands and products on the island are solidly established here, such as Global Mattress, the Titan Products distribution center, which is the distributor of Medalla beer, El Mesón Sandwich, Mi Cosecha, Ana G. Méndez University, Polytechnic University, Inter-American University, Novus, Casa Febus, Leonardo’s Fith Avenue, El Cafetal, Pal Campo restaurant, Finca restaurant, “and I can go on to name many Puerto Rican businesses that have established in Central Florida and talk about their success stories,” Martínez said.
The Orlando city government offers a series of incentives through its business assistance programs, including funding to save the business owner thousands of dollars in fees that must be paid to the city government to establish their business. Another successful program is the facade program, which offers up to 50% of the total cost of remodeling or installing the facade of a business, including doors, curtains, display cabinets, signage, signs, landscaping, among others.
“These are programs that many business owners are unaware of and part of my job is to communicate about these initiatives. We have two parallel governments here — city and county — that don’t exist in our countries. It’s a bit difficult for those who come here to establish that difference. When they call our offices, if we identify that your business is in another jurisdiction, what we do is connect it with that government,” he explained.
Martinez answers any questions about it and he is constantly looking to serve others in the community, from the position he assumed in government.
“I moved from Puerto Rico to Orlando in 2000 to work in a theme park and at the time I never thought that 20 years later I would be working with one of the most successful mayors in the United States. It was never in my plans, but everything happened little by little until I reached the position I currently have,” he said.
Before the pandemic, he attended many commercial trips from Puerto Rico, some organized by the Puerto Rico government and others by private sectors. During their visit, they learn about the process and attend many meetings in the Orlando City Hall.
Martinez is a member of the Board of Directors of Puerto Rican Parade and Festival in Orlando, director of governmental affairs of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, and coordinator of Lake Nona PR group.
During the pandemic, the information has been offered online and all the processes are digitalized, he said. New businesses, such as legal and accounting firms, have been established, as well as eateries La Finca restaurant and Vanessa’s Coffee Shop in Lake Nona, a growing area for businesses in Orlando.
Luis Martínez-Alicea offers a workshop organized with the city’s Conexión Hispana in Spanish on the certification process for minorities and women in Orlando.