Jorge C. Corralejo works to empower small-business owners

The gig: As the founding chairman and chief executive of the nonprofit Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles, Jorge C. Corralejo, 63, has been a cheerleader for small to medium-size minority-owned businesses. The nonprofit group has five employees and an annual budget of about $500,000 that mostly comes from corporate donations.

Inspiration: The Moorpark native earned an undergraduate degree from UC Santa Barbara in 1971 and a master's degree in economic development from Brandeis University in 1975, but returned to open his own small equipment business in Los Angeles in 1984. One of the most important influences in his life when he was a young adult was a small Ventura County grocery store owner, Ruben Castro, who was 20 years older. When business was done for the day, Castro closed up and sat and talked to Corralejo for hours. "We talked politics, business, economics, about farmworkers, about how once they were done with that, they had no place to go," he said. "Having a successful business was the key."

A seat at the table: Local Latino businesspeople could already seek out groups like the Latin Business Assn. and the L.A. Metro Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, but Corralejo thought that more could be done to empower small-business owners. Working with other business owners over lunches and dinners, he drafted an organization that opened its doors in April 2009, offering one-on-one consultations and workshops. "We felt the building block would be offering direct technical assistance," he said. "Our main work is trying to level the playing field for small to medium-sized business. Whatever they need to better compete, we try to provide."

Coaching is important: The Latino Business Chamber of Greater Los Angeles has provided services such as networking, seminars, help with loan applications and business plan reviews to more than 1,000 small to medium-size member businesses in the Southern California region over the years, Corralejo said. One example is Roland Cordero, who was an unemployed construction worker in 2009. With the help of the LBC-GLA, Cordero's small Burbank construction company, Coast 2 Coast Preservations, repairs a steady stream of vacant and foreclosed homes. "I owe my success in starting my business and my growth to the LBC-GLA technical team," Cordero said.

Matchmaking isn't just for singles: "We try to match small businesses with larger companies with opportunities, looking for suppliers, janitors, sales, equipment, printing, all of these kinds of things," Corralejo said.

From wealth to health: Most recently, Corralejo said the LBC-GLA has secured grants totaling $60,000, mostly from the California Endowment, to help educate businesses on the new requirements they face under federal healthcare reform.

Never accept a 'no': Corralejo's business, Macondo Leasing Co., leases equipment including construction gear and office items. The five-worker business has had revenue as high as $900,000 annually, but Corralejo said it was always a struggle. "When you are small, you have to keep going back again and again to the companies that said no. You go back, [say] 'We're still here, we're succeeding. Give us a try.' Sometimes, it took years. Eventually you get some saying yes."

Seeking economic rights: Corralejo's biggest idols are from the civil rights movement: Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. They seldom mentioned economic development, but that was what Corralejo heard anyway. "Economic development, business development is the major means to getting into the middle class," Corralejo said. Chavez and King "talked about wages, fairness, workers rights, how to reach that basic level of human dignity and decency," he said. "To me, that was always about getting to the point of starting your own business."

A policy wonk: Corralejo can spend hours talking policy. In May, he testified about the need to safeguard small businesses at a U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hearing in Los Angeles. In June, there were grant negotiations with the California Endowment over funds to help small businesses wade through healthcare reform. In July, he met with new L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. "If we are not engaged in policy discussions, the contract opportunities are not going to be there," Corralejo said. "We advocate for small and medium businesses to help them get their share."

Personal: Corralejo was born and raised in Moorpark. His father was a truck driver and his mother worked on an electronics company assembly line. He lives in downtown Los Angeles with his wife, Lupe. He has a son and a daughter, both adults. Outside of work, Corralejo's passion is archaeology. He has been to archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Laos, to name a few places. "If there is a site nearby, I will always try to make time to visit it," he said.

Twitter: @RonDWhite

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