Through much of his life, Joel Ayala wanted but did not have a clear ethnic identity. Growing up in Southern California. Ayala discovered he had Native American roots, but connecting with his tribe was difficult. Instead, Ayala turned to the people who had surrounded him in his native city of Santa Ana--people whose needs and open arms helped him become a leader He chose to be Latino.
Today, Ayala is a prominent businessman who divides his time between California's capital, Sacramento, and his majority-Hispanic hometown. He leads Ayala Development, a consulting firm specializing in economic, organizational and workforce development. His clients include state agencies, nonprofits, foreign and American corporations.
Ayala Development recently secured the renewal of a $2 million contract involving a partnership between the governor's office and the California Small Business Development Center Leadership Council, an organization that works with more than 50 centers, assisting small business owners and entrepreneurs--many of them Latinos.
According to Ayala, helping corporations and foreign investors is easy, mainly securing visas and investment opportunities.
Small enterprise is another matter.
"The biggest challenge and accomplishment is to get recognition for small and ethnically owned businesses, for them to sit at the table and get the resources they need," Ayala says.
He adds with pride that the centers working with the California Small Business Development Center Leadership Council have been able to bring back half a billion dollars in investment loans and financing for small businesses in the Golden State.
Entrepreneurship and leadership
Ayala knows firsthand the needs and challenges of the small enterprise. For about 10 years beginning in the early 1990s, he served as a partner or director for the Career Management Institute and the United Education Institute, two private schools offering adult vocational training in Orange County.
In 2001, he landed a job at the then-struggling Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents hundreds of mainly small businesses.
The organization was looking for an account executive and Ayala was interested; he holds two university degrees, in social ecology and political science, from the University of California, Irvine.
But Ayala says he realized what the chamber really needed was an executive director, a post it could not afford at the time. Interested in raising his profile in the...