LINCOLN — Nebraska Latino businesses have an extra hand now.
The Nebraska Department of Economic Development has added a consultant to help local Latino business owners expand.
“Latino entrepreneurs are not aware of the programs and economic development initiatives that address specific needs of the state of Nebraska,” said Marta Sonia Londono Mejia, the new Latino business development consultant.
Londono Mejia said she will help the Latino business community learn what programs and initiatives Nebraska has to offer.
Londono Mejia, who started her role in mid-January, also hopes to motivate Latino business owners to move to Nebraska. She mentioned one recent success story: Tejas Tubular, a Houston-based oil and gas producer, which will soon expand to Norfolk.
The State of Nebraska will invest $1.4 million to bring Tejas Tubular to Nebraska, Londono Mejia said. The City of Norfolk is contributing $3.6 million. Tejas Tubular, in turn, will hire more than 200 employees.
“This is the kind of contributions that the Latino community could give to the economic development of the state of Nebraska,” Londono Mejia said.
To attract businesses, she plans to network through the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the National Association for Latino Community Asset builders.
Dan Curran, director of the business development division in the Department of Economic Development, said many groups help entry-level Latino businesses. And while the department welcomes new businesses, it likely will focus more on businesses that wish to expand.
“If you're a restaurant that sells tortillas to grocery stores, you'll be able to come in and look at our programs and see if we can be of any assistance,” he said.
Curran said Londono Mejia can communicate, recruit and show Latino businesses the strengths of expanding to Nebraska.
He cited strengths like Nebraska's “right-to-work” law, which bans employers from discriminating based on membership or nonmembership in a labor union. He also cited Nebraska's central location, competitively priced land and a strong Midwestern work ethic.
“Every state says they have good labor,” he said. “Those (the businesses) that do expand talk about the quality in Nebraska.”
Curran said the Nebraska Department of Economic Development began talking about creating Londono Mejia's position a few years ago, but when the recession hit, the discussion was put off.
“We've always felt like we needed a better connection (to the Latino population),” he said. While Londono Mejia's office is in Omaha, she and Curran both said she will work all across the state, with Latino communities in Norfolk, Columbus, Grand Island, Lexington, Scottsbluff and elsewhere.