For many Latinos in Reading, Pa., owning a small business is their livelihood.
For others, it's an aspiration.
For Carolina Martinez, the new director of Kutztown University's Latino Business Resource Center, it's her mission to bring those dreams to life.
Martinez, 31, was named in August to head the LBRC, a Latino-focused arm of the university's Small Business Development Center.
She replaces Lenin Agudo, who left the position after six years to become Reading's director of community development.
Martinez, who lives in the Lehigh Valley, will oversee the center, which offers online and in-class seminars, consultations and an eight-week course to help build Latino businesses.
"I think it is great to be able to work with and focus specifically on the Latino community," she said. "It is something I was looking for, to provide our community with the tools they need."
Martinez spent more than a year with the Community Action Development Corporation of Bethlehem, helping to develop small businesses in low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods on Bethlehem's south side.
Having helped build Latino businesses in Bethlehem, Martinez said Reading feels like a perfect fit.
She hopes to build on the program left to her by Agudo.
"I would like to keep improving and updating the class," Martinez said, referring to the eight-week course LBRC provides to help Latino entrepreneurs create a stable business model. "Once people graduate from the program and start their business, we need to keep guiding them
"I want to do something like postgraduate seminars where we can talk about the issues they are experiencing once they are business owners."
Along with more seminars, Martinez said she can see that there is an urgent need for greater technological literacy among Latinos starting their own businesses.
"We need to communicate, buy and sell merchandise, and be able to do electronic accounting online," she said.
Agudo, Martinez's predecessor, said he is confident that she will do the position justice and address the needs of Berks County's Latino business community.
"I think she (Martinez) is a wonderful choice," Agudo said. "It is important that they have hired not only a Latina -- when Latinas are opening businesses at a rate four times faster than Latinos in this country -- but also someone with her level of experience."
Martinez came to the United States four years ago with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering and a master's in business administration.
As she looks to the future of the LBRC and Reading as a whole, Martinez says success is only a matter of direction.
"As Latinos, we are very entrepreneurial; we just need the tools and the guidance to create the ideas we have in mind," she said. "If we have those tools, we can build a better local economy."
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