California Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) has announced the launch of a new business center in Watsonville for women entrepreneurs.
El Pájaro Women’s Business Center (WBC) will be formed through El Pájaro Community Development Corporation (CDC), a local nonprofit organization aiming to promote equal access to economic opportunity through entrepreneurship.
Executive Director Carmen Herrera said that El Pájaro will receive at least $14,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA) to start the center. SBA is still working on finalizing the specifics of the agreement, which will result in a steady amount of support to the center and perhaps leverage even more avenues for funding.
“WBC is a designation that comes with funds and resources attached,” Herrera said. “We’re very excited—this will help provide even more relevant access and programs to local women.”
Last year, Panetta sent a letter to Congress urging the SBA to establish a WBC on the Central Coast.
“The El Pájaro Regional Women’s Business Center will provide greater opportunities to female entrepreneurs in our communities,” Panetta said in a press release. “El Pájaro WBC will ensure women-owned small businesses have the tools they need to thrive during this bruising pandemic and long after. I was proud to advocate for a WBC on the Central Coast and I look forward to the future success of all who will benefit from the guidance of the El Pájaro team.”
The center will join a network of 136 other centers nationwide that offer one-on-one counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance and mentoring on business development to women entrepreneurs. Watsonville is one of only two new centers launched in California this year (and 20 nationwide), and it will cover the three counties of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey.
Herrera said they hope to expand their headquarters in Watsonville to include satellite offices in other parts of the region.
“The more people we reach, the better,” she said.
Hundreds of small businesses have received support through El Pájaro CDC since its inception in 1979. This includes La Perla Del Pacifico restaurant in downtown Watsonville, owned by Anna Martinez and husband Gabino Torres.
Herrera said that Martinez was feeling overwhelmed by the amount of technology needed to function and promote their business during Covid-19. El Pàjaro helped sign Anna up for a tech class.
“[Anna] had given up on the tech—it was overwhelming, and I don’t blame her,” Herrera said. “But after the class, what was presented … it made it much easier.”
El Pájaro also runs a commercial kitchen incubator on Riverside Drive, where entrepreneurs can come use the facility. Kim Tush, owner of Santa Cruz Balsamics, has been working out of the kitchen for a few years now. She says the organization has been instrumental in the success of her business.
“The first thing they ask for is a business plan—that is the key to success,” Tush said. “But if you don’t know how to write one, they’ll help you. They help with numbers, finances, everything … they give you a baseline before you even start buying supplies.”
Tush said that as a woman at El Pàjaro’s kitchen she was treated equally and fairly, and received tremendous support from staff.
“It never mattered—women or not, everyone was given what they needed,” she said. “It’s really nice to hear that they will be becoming an even bigger resource in the community for people like me.”
SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza said in a press release that they have noticed how WBCs across the country have provided lasting support for entrepreneurs and their small businesses during the pandemic.
“Expanding the WBC program is part of this Administration’s longstanding commitment to the success of female entrepreneurs and women-owned small businesses,” Carranza said. “Adding these new centers to the already existing network of centers across America will boost timely resources to our nation’s female economic drivers, providing them with local training and counseling.”
For more information about the El Pájaro Community Development Corporation, visit elpajarocdc.org.