WATSONVILLE—More than 100 people convened on Zoom on June 18 for the grand opening of a new center dedicated to women in business.
The El Pájaro Community Development Corporation (El Pájaro CDC) has launched a Regional Women’s Business Center (RWBC) in Watsonville, with plans to serve the counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito.
Last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration federally designated El Pájaro CDC, a local nonprofit aiming to promote equal access to economic opportunity through entrepreneurship, as an RWBC. There are 135 such centers across the country, with 16 in California that serve more than 12,000 women per year.
These designated centers look to assist women business owners by providing technical help and access to resources.
Carmen Herrera, executive director of El Pájaro CDC, thanked attendees and urged the community to support small businesses and the organizations that help them.
“Small businesses … They are the backbone of our economy,” Herrera said, “and they’re the ones who have been more impacted by the Covid emergency.”
There are roughly 3.9 million small businesses in California, which make up 98% of all in the state. Of these, 1.6 million are minority-owned, and 1.9 million are women-owned. State Senator Anna Caballero reported at the event that women of color are the fastest growing business owner demographic in the state, which is helping to close the gap in wages. She thanked El Pájaro CDC and the RWBC for their continued work during the pandemic.
“It’s no surprise why [El Pájaro CDC] was chosen to receive federal recognition,” she said. “[They] understand the importance of having women in positions of leadership.”
Nancy Swift, chair of California’s RWBC network and longtime colleague of Herrera, said that they identified the Central Coast as a region that needed additional resources, especially to serve Latinas. She pointed out that 48 clients that RWBC served last year were Latinx, and 14 of the state’s centers offered Spanish and English services.
“RWBC are unique service providers,” Swift said. “We are rooted in our communities … We understand the unique challenges different people face.”
In the midst of the celebration, El Pájaro CDC Board Chair Jorge Reguerin also announced the funding of a new micro-lending program. The program hopes to provide the nonprofit’s entrepreneurs with the much-needed startup capital to allow them to expand and be more efficient in their various businesses and projects.
“For all entrepreneurs, it is a tremendous challenge to access capital,” Reguerin said. “And there’s various reasons for that: They’re too small, too complicated and traditionally, they’re not as profitable … This is a much-need help and boost to allow them to create good-paying jobs in our community.”
The loan program was created by the board and staff, with consultants and various funders. Reguerin invited anyone interested to get in touch with El Pájaro CDC.
Attendees of the grand opening had the option to pre-order a lunch to pick up from CaliDog, a small business launched from El Pájaro CDC’s kitchen incubator that specializes in vegan hot dogs and sausages. The business has been growing and gaining followers around the Central Coast and Bay Area.
CaliDog owner Maria Gonzalez was featured in a segment at the event, telling her story.
“I never thought I could do so much,” Gonzales said. “Sometimes I have a hard time reminding myself, ‘You did it.’ I pinch myself—yeah, it’s not a dream. You dreamed it and now it’s going to happen.”
Congressman Jimmy Panetta spoke at the event about Gonzales and her business.
“Maria is an example of how El Pájaro’s services and kitchen incubators can foster real businesses that benefit our community,” he said.
Panetta praised Herrera and the organization for being “absolutely essential” to the local small business community, especially in the past year.
“During the pandemic, El Pájaro CDC was absolutely invaluable to small businesses that were navigating the web of the federal support that we provided in the U.S. Congress,” he said.
For information visit elpajarocdc.org.