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    Wednesday, May 31, 2023

    First Norwich Hispanic business fair greeted with enthusiasm

    Jaran Smith, right, with the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, shakes hands with Angel Mieses of PEMAC, a company that specializes in plexiglass fabrication, during the Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity business fair Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Foundry 66 in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Norwich — Spanish, Haitian Creole and English were some of the languages that could be heard Friday morning at Foundry 66 as business owners and prospective entrepreneurs went from table to table, grabbing business cards and brochures, also in multiple languages.

    The city’s first Hispanic business fair, hosted by the Norwich Community Development Corp., featured dozens of informational tables and advice offered by experts to business owners and those looking to start a business. Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity, or LEAD, which plans to launch a southeastern Connecticut chapter, organized the fair with assistance from state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague.

    “I didn’t know such a program existed,” Anne Gracies of Norwich said as she left the Spanish American Merchants Association table. Gracies, who is of Haitian descent and lived in the Dominican Republic for many years, identifies as Hispanic because she was born on the island of Hispaniola.

    Gracies owns Premier Glamour Events, a wedding and events planning and design firm in Norwich and New London. She is looking to expand and open a storefront in Norwich, she said, and Friday’s business fair was a perfect place to start.

    “I am the kind of person who does not miss an opportunity,” Gracies said.

    She learned of Friday’s business fair from Angel Mieses of Norwich, who owns PEMAC, a business renovations company in Oakdale. Mieses said he has been involved in LEAD’s local organizational meetings “since the beginning.” He looks forward to having a full-fledged chapter in the region.

    “I’m very excited, very encouraged,” Mieses said.

    LEAD started in Danbury last summer and now has a presence in six Connecticut cities, including the Norwich-New London area, LEAD Program Manager Maria Matos said. Matos said there was no attendance count Friday, as people were coming and going throughout the three-hour event. But the Foundry 66 front lobby and two meeting rooms often were crowded with participants visiting the more than 50 informational tables.

    “Fantastic turnout,” said Catherine Marx, U.S. Small Business Administration Connecticut District manager. “We had a lot of interest in starting a business. We were able to connect them to our resources.”

    Matos said in one of those connections, she helped a woman who has a seasonal food truck obtain information about a possible SBA loan to buy a larger truck that could function in winter.

    Gardine Dotsainvil said she is looking for financial assistance to start a children’s vacation care center. She learned of the business fair a couple of days earlier from Suki Lagrito, liaison for Global City Norwich, a co-sponsor of the event. Dotsainvil said she has a business plan but didn’t know where to present it. She talked with representatives from the Women’s Business Development Council, took a business card for Marx at SBA and worked the rooms.

    Majan Pierre of Ledyard, owner of True Maid Cleaning, said she is looking to purchase a building and expand her 10-year-old business. She has eight staff during winter and about 16 in summer.

    Pierre enthusiastically moved from table to table, asking an official of one agency to introduce her to another, and asked that person to do the same down the line. She was excited to meet Sen. Osten and Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Angela Adams.

    “I’m networking,” she said. “I’m getting to know people.”


    Barbershop owner Jeffery Zapata, left, chats with a group of fellow barbers at the Latinos for Educational Advocacy and Diversity business fair Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, at Foundry 66 in Norwich. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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