The City of Lawrence has a growing population, but there’s one demographic that seems to be growing faster than the rest.
The Latino business community in Lawrence is on the rise, but the Latino population seems to be rising as well.
“Yes, there is a significant international community here in Lawrence Township, with Latino being the largest segment of that international population, no question about it,” said Trace Yates, executive director for the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. “They are a huge portion of our population, just in the community. These folks are entrepreneurs and own a lot of businesses. They have a massive economic impact and they’re contributing members of our communities.”
Yates said he doesn’t think the community understands the effect of Latino business on the community. Latino business generates $1.1 billion dollars annually in Marion County.
Because Lawrence is in Marion County, Yates said he isn’t aware of the Latino business impact on Lawrence directly, but it is one of the chamber’s goals is to find out.
“I don’t know what the numbers (for Lawrence) are, but I’d like to discover what those are,” he said. “It’s one of our objectives in ’19.”
Next year, the chamber is planning on hosting a luncheon to educate attendees on the impact of international business in Lawrence.
Marco Dominguez is a Latino businessman in the Lawrence community. He is the director of community relations for Financial Center First Credit Union in Lawrence.
“Something that has changed I will say in the last 10 years, for a benefit to the city in my point of view, working with the Latino community specifically, you see they want to invest,” Dominguez said. “They really want to invest in the city. I believe it is important for the city itself because it’s creating opportunities and the city is recognizing the value in being a multicultural community. As a member of the international community, I want to thank the City of Lawrence for being a welcoming city to everyone. It’s not only Latinos, it’s to everyone.”
Dominguez applauded the recent hiring of Elia James Sanchez, the city’s crime watch director.
“Finally, the city noticed the importance of having a Latino person in that position that can go out and talk to businesses and the city to make (the Latino population) grow,” Dominguez said.
James Sanchez doesn’t only communicate with Latino businesses. She also provides assistance to the Latino members in the Lawrence community who may need a bit more help.
Recently, James Sanchez and the Lawrence Police Dept. distributed winter coats and 10-pound bags of food in the Oakridge Manor mobile home park.
Some of the recipients noted how James Sanchez has helped bridge the gap between the Latino community and the city.
With the help of a translator, recipient Lidia Rocha said she and her family are happy with the city’s assistance.
“I’m very happy and content that the police department is able to have somebody here to speak and help us feel safe and secure,” she said.
James Sanchez said the Latinos represent about 10 or 11 percent of Lawrence’s population, which is higher, percentage-wise, than Indianapolis’ Latino population, which is 7 percent.
“Here in the City of Lawrence, absolutely the Latino population has been increasing, and we have a higher concentration of Latinos living in the City of Lawrence than in Indianapolis,” she said. “I think one of the big reasons why people want to move here or why Latinos have moved here (is), one, we have the homes here that are a lot less expensive than other areas, and not only that, I think they understand the City of Lawrence is welcoming, and that includes the police department.”
James Sanchez’ office is in police administration, and since her hiring, she said she’s already noticed more Latinos voluntarily filing police reports or coming in for fingerprinting services. She said she hopes Latinos sees another side of the police department through her involvement.
“(Police) are always helping people at not a good time in their life, and so we want to show our police department is a caring department, that we care about everyone, and just for us to show another side of the police department, the human side,” she said.
Next steps in connecting the Latino community and the city
Elia James Sanchez doesn’t want the City of Lawrence’s outreach to the Latino population to be a once-a-year occurrence.
“One of my goals for the next year is to choose four other communities (within the City of Lawrence) we can do outreach to and have an outreach event at,” she said. “It was very important to me that when we visit these places, I don’t want us to just go and take pictures just one time and then leave. That was something I noticed the Latinos would criticize politicians for doing, to come there one time a year and then they’re gone.”
James Sanchez has visited Oakridge Manor mobile homes four times already.
“I’m so blessed to be here and be able to help out,” she said. “Hopefully, I can be that voice or that ear for the community.”