Family nearby and a market for her business keep this New London entrepeneur in Connecticut
New London — After family and career choices took her from Peru to New London to Wallingford, Karina Alvarez found herself in Norwalk, contemplating her next move.
After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2010, she spent around five years working for Liberty Mutual, making good money as a workers compensation manager. But she decided to take a six-month break to figure out what she wanted for the future of her career and personal life.
Alvarez opted to move to Spain to get her master of business administration. Her tight-knit, "traditional" family was supportive.
"I decided to quit without a job on the side or without a second choice to just start with, and they've been supportive since then," she said. "They've always supported me with all of my decisions, and even when I decided to move to Barcelona, they were very thrilled that I wanted to take that risk."
Now Alvarez, 29, is back in New London and running EZ-Occasions, the event design and rentals company she founded last year.
A lot of her millennial friends from Connecticut have moved elsewhere — to Boston or New York or Florida — for what she says are lifestyle reasons.
When Alvarez returned from Barcelona, she planned to start a career in the corporate world in New York or Boston, but plans changed, and now she thinks she will stay in southeastern Connecticut for at least the next several years.
It was a cousin in New York who got Alvarez interested in pursuing a career in the events business. He owns a sound and lighting company and is "pretty much at Madison Square Garden every weekend," she said.
So she did her business plan and studied the market in the New London area. She found that there wasn't much competition in the area for rentals and the demand was high.
That was one of two main reasons for her to stay in New London, along with being near her parents and sister. She and her family started EZ-Occasions in July of 2016, taking a year to network and get to know the industry before its first season for business this past summer.
Hopes to buy a home
Alvarez, who lives in a New London apartment her sister owns, owns a house elsewhere in the city that she purchased as an investment property and rents out. She hopes to, in a few years, buy a house near the Waterford-New London border to move into.
Alvarez works out of an office in her Gorton Street apartment and has two small warehouses in New London and Waterford. EZ-Occasions specializes in ceiling draping for tents at outdoor events and offers lighting options.
The exclusive event rental company for the Granite House in Waterford, EZ-Occasions also provides designs and rentals for events at Harkness Memorial State Park, Latitude 41, Mystic Seaport, Glastonbury Boathouse and more.
Many of Alvarez's events are in Mystic and she mainly does weddings, making summer the busy season. In the off-season, she is working on acquiring a bigger warehouse and more inventory, such as glassware, china, tables, chairs and tents.
Compared to working at an insurance company, she likes the freedom and flexibility of owning her own business — it enables her to do something different every day.
To supplement her income amid investments in a growing business, Alvarez travels across Connecticut and Rhode Island working as a translator for federal government agencies.
Alvarez, a New London High School graduate who moved from Peru to Connecticut with her family when she was 14, also travels for fun. She said she has visited 22 countries, including Italy, France, Greece, Portugal, Brazil, Bolivia and Morocco.
The new perspectives gleaned from traveling have aided her business savvy, such as by enabling her to help a bride who wanted a Parisian theme for her rehearsal dinner last summer.
No traffic worries
Alvarez gets help from her family for EZ-Occasions. Her sister, Rossana Alvarez, works on the décor side of the business. Her father does some of the physical labor of installing tents. Her mother checks the details, making sure that if a bride is supposed to get 125 glasses, she gets 125 glasses.
Alvarez thanks her mother for laying a foundation for hard work by pushing her to be first in her class as early as first grade.
"Second grade through MBA, I did it all by myself. She never had to check on me or follow up," Alvarez said. "She did a great job when I first started my education, so that's something that I always remember, and I always thank her for that."
Alvarez has worked with state Rep. Chris Soto, D-New London, on Hola New London, a section inserted in The Times weekly newspaper for Spanish speakers. She credits Soto with integrating education and business growth, and said she has seen more culturally diverse businesses in the city.
While her family has helped keep her in southeastern Connecticut, and while she likes the "peace of mind" and lack of big-city traffic, she sees much that needs to be done to attract and retain young people. She wishes there were more things to do during the winter as well as more shows and good restaurants, especially ones offering French cuisine.
"Of course New London is a really nice area overall," she said, "but for young people, there's not a lot of options out there."
Millennials in Connecticut
Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.
In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.
A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.
Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day will profile seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.
WHAT GENERATION ARE YOU?
Generation X: 1965-1980
Baby Boomers: 1946-1964
The Silent Generation: 1928-1945
The Greatest Generation: Before 1928
Source: Pew Research Center
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