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March 29, 2001

Economic program reaches out to Hispanic- and American Indian-owned businesses in Yakima Valley, kick-off event March 30

With the Census Bureau reporting two-thirds growth in the number of Hispanic-owned business in Washington state, a University of Washington and Heritage College student project plans to provide such businesses in the Yakima Valley with desperately needed support.

Thirty undergraduates from the two schools will not only provide consulting to a Spanish-language radio station but to the Yakama Indian Nation’s Tribal Land Enterprise and a group of small-apple farmers — bridging the gap between services in eastern and western Washington.

The pilot project, under the direction of the Business and Economic Development Program of the UW Business School, gives students hands-on experience while assisting the businesses with new projects. Students will use videoconferencing and other Internet technology to communicate with each other and their clients.

The number of Hispanic-owned companies in Washington increased 64 percent between 1992 and 1997, according to the Census Bureau. In 1992, Hispanic-owned businesses grossed $750 million in the state. Sales in 1997 topped $1 billion, with 18,830 people employed in Hispanic-owned businesses. The bureau has not yet released statistics on the number of Native American enterprises in the country.

The growth rates are significant, says Michael Verchot, director of the Business and Economic Development Program, because just as with any other emerging section in the economy, additional assistance is needed for growth to continue.

“When the technology industry took off here in the state, companies received support,– Verchot said. “Hispanic and Native American-owned businesses are a growing sector and we need to pour money and support into them just as we would any other emerging market.–
Verchot said the fact that so many of these businesses are small makes them especially vulnerable to economic downturns and the lack of access to new technology and information.

A kick-off event for the student-consulting project will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 30 at Heritage College, 3240 Fort Road in Toppenish. After a few announcements, students and business owners will meet and begin working together. The project runs through June.

The Business Economic and Development Program, in its sixth year, assists business owners in economically distressed areas. The UW Business School program has enabled more than 300 students to work with 90 companies, resulting in the creation of 175 new jobs and $5.5 million in new sales. Until now, the program has reached out primarily to Seattle-area businesses in the Central Area, Rainer Valley and Chinatown/International District communities.

The consulting project marks the first time the program has worked with businesses and students outside of western Washington.
Students will work on four consulting projects for the businesses. With the Yakama Indian Nation’s Tribal Land Enterprise, one of the largest apple exporters in the state, students will help to develop a plan to increase international sales.

For the non-commercial KDNA radio station in Granger, students will explore the feasibility of building a joint-community center with the city. Another group of students will create a marketing strategy for the station designed to increase listenership and fund-raising opportunities.
“There’s probably more potential for financial support from western Washington,– said Gabriel Martinez, KDNA station manager. “These students will help us develop a plan to tap into those resources. And we will help them gain experience in working with an organization that has had a strong connection to the community for 21 years. You can’t get that kind of firsthand knowledge in school.–

Students will also research alternatives to growing apple crops for a group of small-farm owners in Yakima Valley. The state’s apple sales have been declining since 1996, leaving growers little profit after paying growing costs.

Students will use resources made available by the UW@HeritageCollege high-tech center. The center is based at Heritage and connected to the UW campus network in Seattle. It provides technology education and services for Heritage faculty and students.

The UW and Heritage College student consulting pilot project is underwritten by Washington Mutual Bank.