Norwich – Spanish, Haitian Creole and English were some of the languages that could be heard Friday morning at Foundry 66 as business owners and would-be entrepreneurs went from table to table grabbing business cards and brochures, also in several languages.
The city’s first Hispanic Trade Fair, organized by the Norwich Community Development Corp., featured dozens of tables with information and expert advice for business owners and those looking to start a business. Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity, or LEAD, which plans to launch a Southeast Connecticut chapter, organized the fair with the help of State Senator Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.
“I didn’t know such a program existed,” Anne Gracies of Norwich said as she left the table at the Hispanic American Merchants Association. Gracies, who is of Haitian descent and lived in the Dominican Republic for many years, identifies as Hispanic because she was born on the island of Hispaniola.
Gracies owns Premier Glamor Events, a wedding and event planning and design company in Norwich and New London. She is looking to expand and open a storefront in Norwich, she said, and Friday’s trade show was a perfect place to start.
“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t miss an opportunity,” Gracies said.
She heard about Friday’s trade show from Angel Mieses of Norwich, owner of PEMAC, a commercial renovation company in Oakdale. Mieses said he was involved in LEAD’s local organizing meetings “from the beginning.” He looks forward to having a full-fledged chapter in the region.
“I’m very excited, very encouraged,” Mieses said.
LEAD started in Danbury last summer and now has a presence in six Connecticut cities, including the Norwich-New London area, said Maria Matos, LEAD program manager. Matos said there was no attendance count on Friday as people came and went throughout the three-hour event. But Foundry 66’s lobby and two meeting rooms were often packed with attendees visiting the more than 50 information tables.
“Fantastic turnout,” said Catherine Marx, Connecticut district manager for the US Small Business Administration. “We had a lot of interest in starting a business. We were able to connect them to our resources.
Matos said in one such relationship, she helped a woman who owns a seasonal food truck get information about a possible SBA loan to buy a larger truck that could operate in the winter.
Gardine Dotsainvil said she was looking for financial help to start a children’s holiday daycare. She learned about the trade fair a few days earlier from Suki Lagrito, liaison for Global City Norwich, co-sponsor of the event. Dotsainvil said she had a business plan but didn’t know where to present it. She spoke with representatives of the Women’s Business Development Council, picked up a business card for Marx at SBA, and worked the halls.
Majan Pierre of Ledyard, owner of True Maid Cleaning, said she was looking to buy a building and expand her 10-year-old business. It has eight employees in the winter and about 16 in the summer.
Pierre enthusiastically moved from table to table, asking a manager from one agency to introduce him to another, and asked that person to do the same later. She was delighted to meet Senator Osten and the Executive Director of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, Angela Adams.
“I network,” she says. “I get to know people.”