After working in higher education at two of the largest universities in Puerto Rico, Leida Javier-Ferrell. Ph.D., left everything she knew and moved to Mobile to start a new chapter in her life. Soon after, she quickly realized how important and necessary community connections were, especially within the Hispanic community.
In 2009, Javier-Ferrell cofounded the Hispanic American Business Association of the Gulf Coast (HABAGC) with Maria Conchita Mendez as a way to foster community and economic development among the Hispanic business community.
“What has grown exponentially (since HABAGC’s founding) is our reach and recognition of our labor by the community,” said Javier-Ferrell. “We started with a focus on business meetings to promote international growth, networking and economic development. We have added services in the area of workforce development, scholarships, community services and support of many kinds. From helping to send goods to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and helping islanders who relocated to Mobile, to collaborating with other Hispanic community organizations when they need us, we have become the representation of the Hispanics in the region.”
Power Moves: Dr. Leida Javier-Ferrell of the Hispanic American Business Association of the Gulf Coast from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.
HABAGC has organized several successful meetings and conferences and has gained the support of many area companies and organizations, including Airbus, the Alabama Port Authority and Alabama Power. When asked about her accomplishments and impact, Javier-Ferrell said it all came down to unifying the community and creating opportunities for everyone.
“One of my main accomplishments was to be part of a small group that started the workforce development [with HABAGC] and managed the activity Worlds of Opportunity, where eighth-graders from eight counties participated in an interactive experience of high-demand careers,” Javier-Ferrell said.
Tapping into her experience in higher education, Javier-Ferrell has helped foster more opportunities for Hispanic students in Mobile. “More recently,” she said, “with a small grant from Mobile United, (my company) Javier-Calametti LLC, with the support of HABAGC, we organized a culinary business and certification training project for Hispanic entrepreneurs in collaboration with Bishop State Community College and Coastal Alabama Community College. We have already graduated two groups and have over 60 candidates for future training. The outreach of Hispanics to continue technical training will result in additional training partnerships in highly needed workforce areas. In addition, we are supporting Alabama Power in recruitment for their training programs through Bishop State.”
Javier-Ferrell already has big plans to continue to foster community and economic development for the Hispanic residents of Mobile. She and HABAGC are in the process of raising funds to build a Cooperative Commissary Kitchen in Mobile for minority food entrepreneurs. They are also getting ready for the next Mobile Latin Fest to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month after the huge success of the event in 2021.
“We accomplished organizing the first Mobile Latin Fest in 2021 with an initial grant from the Downtown Alliance and many sponsors from the business community,” said Javier-Ferrell. “The geofencing of the Downtown Alliance reported over 20,000 people that night. It was a real success. The 2022 Mobile Latin Fest is on October 14 as part of the celebrations of National Hispanic Heritage Month.” Alabama Power is among the supporters of the event.
When asked about the future, Javier-Ferrell knows the Gulf Coast will continue to grow and prosper as long as opportunities remain open to good, hard-working people who want to come and contribute to the workforce. She believes the resources for Alabama’s success are there; they simply need to be utilized.
“The regional leadership is working to continue to attract economic development projects,” she said. “We need skilled people, either by training locally or by attracting talent. Alabama should be attracting a more diversified group of industries, such as pharmaceuticals and high-technology sites. We have the land, the transportation and the desire to grow. We will have to improve, mainly, the quality of life, education and affordable housing for those left behind.”
With an optimistic approach about the potential and future of Mobile, Javier-Ferrell knows she has the ability to help generate economic and cultural development for the Hispanic community using her past experiences and the lessons she’s learned.
“The top lessons I’ve learned: remembering the importance of family, education, learning to network in new settings, motivation, self-worth, confidence, and finding good mentors. It is a difficult balance, especially for women,” Javier-Ferrell says. “In a rapidly changing business environment, it is important to hone the transferable skills and continued training. And most importantly, find people who will help and support you.”