Columnist Olivia Garcia

If you want to gauge whether the state is on the path to economic recovery, one of the first pulses to check is that of the small business.

Such was the statement shared by Mark Martinez, president/CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, who was recently in Bakersfield as part of the Small Business Week recognition.

"Small businesses will be the leaders in not only the economic revenue but the growth in this state," Martinez said.

Martinez shared his message before a group of more than 150 people, about half of them being local small business owners who were attending the recent luncheon at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Bakersfield. The luncheon was hosted by the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Women's Business Center, University of LaVerne in partnership with the Downtown Business Association, Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce, and Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce, sponsored by Wells Fargo, Univision, University of La Verne, KGET, ABC 23, and Clinica Sierra Vista.

Martinez was the keynote speaker, and he spoke of the challenges facing small business owners. He highlighted his own personal successes and failures as a small business owner himself, saying the small business owners really know the definition of a rollercoaster ride. But he credited local connections, involvement in community groups, such as the local chambers of commerce, training, experience and determination as some of the reasons that help small businesses grow.

"We owe so much to small business owners," whom Martinez called the employers and producers of California's economy.

Tim Rios, senior vice president at Wells Fargo Bank, also spoke and explained that he is seeing a strong economic recovery based on the number of bank applications they are receiving and stronger financial statements. The loan loss rate has dropped while credit card applications are growing, he said. In addition, Rios said that the average loan size is about $26,000, which shows the bank is helping small businesses establish their dreams and goals.

At the event, Gabriela Mello of Wells Fargo Bank was also recognized as the Champion of the Year for advocating for small businesses and working with local chambers and small business development centers in the San Joaquin Valley, including Kern, to help small business owners succeed. Mello thanked her parents who are small business owners themselves and have inspired her to help others in the same conditions. Tamsi said the event had a great turnout and hopes for a larger one next year.


Much praise goes to Rabobank N.A., which is making a tremendous impact in working poor and low-income neighborhoods. On Thursday, the nonprofit Kern County Housing Authority Foundation will officially unveil computer labs serving local low-income residents. Rabobank N.A. donated 20 Dell personal computers to the Foundation to equip Housing Authority community centers: six PCs were placed at Greenfield Homes, 10 at Adelante Vista, two at the Residences at West Columbus, and two at the Little Village development in Bakersfield. The digital divide remains a significant disparity between higher-income and poorer neighborhoods, which can affect a youth's ability to succeed academically or an adult's chance to reach greater independence. The Rabobank computers will make positive strides, especially for those desiring to better themselves, said Norma Rojas-Mora of the foundation.

"Youth who would not normally have access to services or the opportunity to participate in leadership and/or after-school activities are given the opportunity to do so and in their communities through donations such as this," said Rojas-Mora, noting that such donations are inspiring not only for the people they will serve but for the agency itself. "That is why I love my job."

The goal of the computer lab is to provide low-income children the opportunity to acquire computer skills and enable them to complete homework and research projects. It will also help adults with job-search and other employment-related information."

This is not the first time Rabobank has contributed to the nonprofit foundation. In 2012, the bank awarded the Foundation with a $50,000 Community Development Grant over a two-year period. The first $25,000 was received in May 2012 and the balance received last month.

Latina Leaders

Mark your calendars for the "Latina Leading the Way" awards dinner 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 12 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Bakersfield. The event is organized by the nonprofit Latina Leaders of Kern County and marks the group's 15th year anniversary.

Among other things, the nonprofit group provides leadership development and support for local Latina professionals and youth.

Recently, the group celebrated the graduation of Latina youth who were part of its leadership program, which runs annually through donations and volunteers. The Latina Leaders Youth Leadership Program reached 85 high school students and had representation from 15 area high schools. At the recent graduation, student speaker, Xitlaly Estrada, shared a motivational speech, saying the program taught her that she is a leader and she has learned to be comfortable with who she is. Estrada will be attending Notre Dame in the fall. All seniors who graduated in the program will be attending college, including UCLA, UC San Diego, University of Seattle, San Diego State, UC Merced, Cal State Bakersfield, and Bakersfield College, organizers say. Recruitment for next year's program will begin in September.

However, the program would not have been possible without sponsorship and support from the community, which is why organizers say its July 12 event is critical. The awards dinner will showcase its founders, current successes and its leadership youth. Monies raised from the event will help the group continue with its youth program and reach more, organizers say. Sponsorships and tickets are currently available. Individual tickets are $55. For more information, please call Genie Navarro, Latina Leaders event chair, via email at gnavarro@mercyhousing.org or phone at 661-979-3005.

Olivia Garcia is editor of Bakersfield Life and BWell magazines and a columnist of The Bakersfield Californian. These are her opinions, not necessarily those of The Bakersfield Californian. Send her tips atogarcia@bakersfield.com

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