Students and community leaders joined Reading officials Wednesday in applauding a National Penn Bank investment in the city's growing Latino businesses.
The bank gave Kutztown University's Latino Business Resource Center $50,000 to continue and expand the center's assistance to Reading's Latino entrepreneurs in a ceremony at the Berks County Community Foundation.
"We are very excited about the grant" said Carolina Martinez, the center's director. "This grant will help us continue our class for next semester and will also help us provide more consulting services for existing businesses."
The center provides an eight-week course, Programa De Negocios Para el Exito de Empresarios Latino (Business Program for Successful Latino Entrepreneurs) to help Latino entrepreneurs start businesses.
It also is setting its sights on providing services and consulting for Spanish speakers and Latinos who already have businesses.
The donation from National Penn Bank is not the bank's first to the center but it is its biggest.
The aim is to allow the center to help existing business reach the next level, according to Sharon McMichael, the bank's Community Reinvestment Act officer.
In 2011, National Penn and the LBRC conducted a survey of Latino-owned businesses along the Penn Corridor, the 2-mile stretch of Penn Avenue and Penn Street between City Park and Wyomissing. The survey revealed that the center needed to look at how it could help existing businesses stay up and running, McMichael said.
"Businesses are showing that they need assistance in bookkeeping and marketing and the center would like to have more Web-based resources," McMichael said. "It (the grant) is for outreach specifically to those Latino business that are operating and facing new obstacles."
Reading Mayor Vaughn D. Spencer also attended the grant presentation and praised the center's commitment to Reading's Latinos.
"The Latino Business Resource Center has been a strong asset to the city," he said. "We understand the value of this program to grow small business and to begin to revitalize our city and downtown area."
Spencer also presented an official commendation to Dr. F. Javier Cevallos, KU president, for his influence in establishing the center.
"We have an obligation to work with the community and the Latino Business Resource Center is one of the ways we do that," Cevallos said.
Dr. Carlos Vargas-Aburto, provost and vice president for academic and student affairs at KU, commended the 6-year-old center for having produced more than entrepreneur course graduates.
Students of the current entrepreneurial class presented early versions of the business models they have been developing.
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