Category Archives: Business Spotlight

Coalition for Food and Health Equity

Small Business Spotlight
February 2024
Empowering Communities: Leeja Carter, Ph.D,
A Journey from Grassroots to Nonprofit Leadership

In the heart of Hudson County, a dedicated and visionary leader and Fulbright Scholar, Leeja Carter, Ph.D, spearheads a transformative mission to bridge the gap between food insecurity, nutritional equity, and overall well-being. Her nonprofit, the Coalition for Food and Health Equity (CFHE), embodies the power of partnership, bringing food entrepreneurs, for-profit organizations, and government agencies together to create systemic change. Dr. Carter’s work, as she describes it, “carries a touch of magic that’s turning the tide in the fight against food insecurity and building resilient, healthy communities.”

Ujamaa Café TM is a practice of community care and economics through supporting neighborhood revitalization at the intersection of health and food equity.

From Grassroots to Nonprofit in the Face of COVID 

Dr. Carter’s journey to the Coalition for Food and Health Equity began in 2012 as a researcher in Chicago and then Brooklyn; her work included a Fulbright fellowship to London.  This scholarly path was the foundation that prepared Dr. Carter, along with 13 of her students and Jersey City residents, to co-create a grassroots project known as the Hudson County Hunger Project (HCHP) in response to the challenges posed by restaurant closures and the increasing prevalence of food insecurity at the onset of the pandemic in March of 2020. In leading HCHP, Dr. Carter secured funding to keep restaurant doors open and began delivering meals to those in need. The immediate impact on the struggling restaurant industry and underserved areas was evident. However, long-term, sustainable solutions post-COVID that addressed resilient, healthy communities were unavailable through the current HCHP model for hunger relief. Pulling from her decades-long background in community and applied health research, she developed the Coalition for Food and Health Equity in December 2020. Dr. Carter’s vision was clear: disrupt the systemic and structural inequalities in the food and health system to build resilient, healthy communities as a nonprofit.

Innovative Programs in Action

Ujamaa Café™ are cashless, de-surveilled food access points and locations that cater to the diverse needs of its patrons and the surrounding community.

At the Coalition for Food and Health Equity, transformative concepts come to life through innovative, technology-integrated yet practical, on-the-ground initiatives. HCHP delivers culturally and medically tailored meals to clients’ doorsteps. Ujamaa CaféTM is ‘smart’ community refrigerators deployed in food desert locations across New Jersey and Philadelphia to combat food insecurity and increase access to healthy meal options, all sourced from local businesses. The first Ujamaa CaféTM was launched in the county at the Hudson Pride Center, with a second fridge at the Kismet of Kings in Jersey City. The Eating Better Together program addresses the importance of nutritional health and oral hygiene in children. Darice Toon, Director, Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services shared, “Dr. Carter’s impactful work and the success of these programs are great examples of how Hudson County’s Department of Health and Human Services collaborates with residents and businesses to tackle some of our community’s biggest challenges. We remain committed to supporting the health, well-being, and overall quality of life here by providing an array of inclusive and accessible services, education, and resources with dignity, compassion, and respect. As we look to the future, we see great opportunities to continue this important work with various local, state, federal, and private agencies.”

HCHP is a community meal program supporting local restaurants and food-insecure residents in Hudson County.

Community Engagement and Partnerships

CFHE’s programs provide a synergistic foundation for the community’s quality of life. Ilir Mani, owner of Cafe Peanut and CFHE Restaurant Affiliate, shared, “We’ve been working alongside Dr. Carter since 2020. For small business owners like me, these critical programs were a huge help in our efforts to survive the pandemic,” he continued, “more than just keeping our doors open – It served our community in profound and lasting ways.”

Unique Approach and Inclusivity

“What sets the Coalition for Food and Health Equity apart is our focus on providing long-term access to healthful nutrition through a model of care and dignity,” shared Dr. Carter. Coalition for Food and Health Equity partnered with the Hudson Pride Center, ensuring that everyone, regardless of their background or identity, can access food in affirming, safe, and culturally inclusive spaces. “For 30 years, Hudson Pride Center has battled food insecurity in the LGBTQ+ community. Our partnership with the Coalition for Food and Health Equity brings crucial awareness and resources. Clients express genuine gratitude for the chance to enjoy a nourishing meal in a safe environment. We’re committed to creating healthier living experiences in Hudson County, driven by visionary leaders uniting for resilient communities,” stated Elizabeth Schedl, Executive Director, Hudson Pride Center.

Building Healthier Communities – The Future of Hudson County

Dr. Leeja Carter and the Coalition for Food and Health Equity represent transformational progress in Hudson County and embody the can-do, collaborative approach that drives New Jersey’s fastest-growing county forward. These innovative strategies, unwavering commitment to health equity, and dedicated partnerships address the critical issue of food insecurity today and build a resilient, healthier, and more equitable future for residents and businesses in Hudson County. “At Hudson County Economic Development Corporation, we know it is important to leave no one behind in the goal to achieve a thriving Hudson County economy.  We, therefore, set out, with intentionality, to engage our nonprofit entrepreneurs, providing guidance, support, and encouragement to address the impediments that prevent our residents from full participation in the Hudson County economy,” said Michelle Richardson, Executive Director of the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation.  


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Coalition for Food and Health Equity 
Cafe Peanut 
Hudson Pride Center
Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services

Download the February 2024 Business Spotlight at Coalition for Food and Health Equity

Casa Cubana- Jersey City, New Jersey

Small Business Spotlight
October 2023
Casa Cubana, A Family’s Journey

Located in the heart of Jersey City, Casa Cubana has become a cherished local business, a testament to a family’s entrepreneurial spirit and unwavering dedication to owning and operating a catering company for future generations. As a woman-owned Hispanic business, Mercedes Castex proudly works alongside her son, General Manager Gerardo, and daughter, Executive Chef & General Manager Diana Mastrodimos. Working together as a family, they ensure that every dish reflects Cuba’s authentic flavors and traditions. This vibrant takeout café and catering business celebrates not only the rich tapestry of Cuban cuisine but also the resilience and heritage of the family.

The roots of Casa Cubana trace back to the 1960s when Mercedes immigrated to the United States, settling in the bustling streets of Miami. Her husband, Rene Perez, no stranger to the restaurant industry, carried the family’s culinary traditions with him. Gerardo and Diana grew up immersed in a world of Cuban flavors, savoring authentic dishes daily. The techniques and stories passed down from their “abuela” through generations ignited the family’s culinary passion and inspired them to bring the authentic essence of Cuban cuisine to the forefront.

What was once a shared family dream became a reality five years ago when they opened their catering business and café in Jersey City. “When we began, we had experience in the kitchen but needed to learn how to make our vision an operational catering company/takeout café. We started with catering, serving large corporations in the area, and became really well-versed with managing large client accounts,” Gerardo shared. “When we decided to open the doors to our business, the choice of location was an easy one. Jersey City provides proximity to NYC and offers a vibrant, culturally diverse, and growing community.”

Despite the unexpected challenges posed by the pandemic, the family remained resolute in their commitment to their customers. Navigating the complexities of operating a business during the pandemic, Gerardo connected with community organizations online to find the resources needed to grow Casa Cubana.  By attending various networking events, he met Michelle Richardson. This initial conversation led him to discover a program that aligned with his goals: Hudson County Economic Development Corporation’s (HCEDC) partnership with Rutgers University, The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development’s (CUEED) Black and Latino Urban Entrepreneurship – Retail Acceleration Program (BLUE-RAP), a model of their award-winning Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative (EPI).

“At Rutgers, we strongly believe in delivering entrepreneurial education with award-winning programs in curriculum and business sustainability. As a leading academic institution, it is our responsibility to share available resources and knowledge with the community because that is what ultimately strengthens New Jersey,” stated Jasmine Cordero-West, Associate Director, Rutgers University, CUEED. The partnership with HCEDC started as a way to build capacity with businesses located in Hudson County. Together, the program evolved to provide retail and restaurant entrepreneurs with a roadmap to grow through management training, business and financial coaching, and training workshops. “At HCEDC, we focus on building sustainable businesses that can withstand global pandemics and recessions. It is our top priority to partner with the best programs in the state to meet entrepreneurs where they are and get them to the next step so that they can thrive,” shared Michelle Richardson, Executive Director of HCEDC.

When asked what advice Gerardo could offer other entrepreneurs, he shared, “Be ready to pivot. Stay updated and aware of everything going on in your community. Engage with professional organizations on social media, sign up for workshops, and educate yourself on all the available resources and offerings. These organizations are here to help achieve your goal.”

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Rutgers Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development

Download the October Business Spotlight at: Casa Cubana

The Little Boho Bookshop- Bayonne, New Jersey

Small Business Spotlight
August 2023
The Little Boho Bookshop- Bayonne, New Jersey








For Sandra Dear, the founder of The Little Boho Bookshop, the path to realizing her dream was paved with dedication, community, and a deep-rooted passion for learning. Sandra’s dynamic career in the publishing industry spanned over 15 years and propelled her from the sunny shores of San Diego to the bustling streets of New York City. “I left the West Coast for an opportunity to work at the Penguin Group in Manhattan. I asked my realtor to find me a place to call home that was close to the water and quiet. I discovered Bayonne without knowing much about Hudson County,” Sandra recalls. She was immediately struck by the strong sense of community when settling in but noticed that something was missing. “It had always been my dream to open a bookstore to share my love of reading. It seemed like the right place and the right time.”

Nestled in the heart of Bayonne, between 4th and 5th Streets, The Little Boho Bookshop opened its doors on July 31st, 2017, and quickly became a space where everyone felt welcome and inspired. “It was Earth Day 2017 when I walked down 22nd street to Bergen Point to explore and learn more about the area,” Sandra continued, “I met the artist, Rebecca Graves, owner of rGraves&Company. She was familiar with the area and encouraged me to advance my vision by helping me find the space that I am now in.”

The unique sense of community that had been a driving force behind The Little Boho Bookshop’s success proved even more essential during the challenges posed by the pandemic. Local businesses joined forces to share resources and discover ways to support one another, along with the community at large. Amidst the challenges, Sandra also found support from Michelle Richardson, who, at first, was a customer and eventually became a guiding force. “She makes the point for all business owners to know what programs are available, if you have any questions, whom to contact, and if we don’t necessarily need the services HCEDC offers at the moment, that they are still accessible. She helped me in the sense of knowing there is always support and that we’re not alone as entrepreneurs,” Sandra explained.

The Little Boho Bookshop has evolved to become more than just a bookstore; it’s now a movement for fostering childhood education in communities throughout Hudson County. “HCEDC and our partners are committed to supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses at every step of their journey with access to capital, education, training, and information. The vibrancy these individuals bring to our municipalities continues to drive growth and build strength. The Little Boho Bookshop is a great example of the kinds of establishments that are helping to fuel the future of Hudson County,” Michelle Richardson, Executive Director, HCEDC.

Explore The Little Boho Bookshop in Bayonne!

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Explore: The Little Boho Bookshop

Download the August Business Spotlight at: The Little Boho Bookshop


Level Up Studio, LLC- Bayonne, New Jersey

Small Business Spotlight
April 2023
Level Up Studio, LLC- Bayonne, New Jersey

Helen Perez’s aspirational journey to become a small business owner in Hudson County reflects her resilience, strength, and desire to give back to the people of her community in transformative ways. In 2017, Helen and her partner Patrick Mingoes opened Level Up Studio, a training facility in Bayonne that motivates people to improve their health in a judgment-free space to reach their fitness goals confidently. “After years of commuting and living in cities like New York City and Boston, we chose Bayonne. It was just the right size for us to pursue our entrepreneurial goals in a welcoming environment. Hudson County offered a fast-paced city lifestyle without compromising location, access to parks, and outdoor activities.”

Helen discovered her passion for fitness after experiencing physical and mental improvement. She reflected, “Exercising impacted me in more ways than I have ever expected. I was not only working out for myself but pushing others to reach personal milestones in fitness they thought they could never achieve with one-on-one training.” She wanted to empower other women to gain experience and confidence through exercise. In her spare time, she began training women in the park, then a garage, and ultimately rented studio space with her partner Patrick.

With a clear vision for their business, they began to form a plan to reach their desired goals, but then the pandemic changed everything. Helen and Patrick immediately recognized their need for support and, after researching their options, applied to numerous small business assistance programs. Helen connected with Alejandro Cruz, Training & Mentoring Officer, Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC), where they received counseling on loan options and valuable insight into a stronger approach to their business model.

Patrick shared, “When we started Level Up Studio, we were making strides but without structure. The pandemic was the real starting point for understanding our business and allowed us to restructure the business model.”

Alejandro encouraged Helen and Patrick to join UCEDC’s Virtual Incubator Program (VIP) as a catalyst to grow their business in the direction they envisioned. “UCEDC’s VIP allows businesses with ownership from underserved populations the opportunity to sustain themselves through the current economic landscape by offering education and access to capital. It was developed to battle the injustices and obstacles that diverse business owners have historically faced, which have often impeded their success,” stated Adam Farrah, President of UCEDC.

“Living in Hudson County, I am in the unique situation to be both a client and observer of the dramatic changes in businesses like Level Up! I’m proud of the partnerships we’ve developed with organizations like UCEDC and the programs they provide that empower and transform the entrepreneurial community,” shared Michelle Richardson, Executive Director of HCEDC. 

Helen and Patrick continue to grow Level Up Studio with an improved business plan and skill set while helping individuals of any age reach their fitness goals. Together, they’re helping to improve the health of the community one client at a time.

Helen Perez & Patrick Mingoes, Owners Level Up Studio, LLC. Bayonne, NJ

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Union County Economic Development Corporation (UCEDC)

Photo Credit: Adena Stevens Photography

Download the April 2023 Business Spotlight at: Level Up Studio


ASA Medical Billing Services, LLC- Union City, New Jersey

Angela Gonzalez’s aspirational journey began at 19 years old when she relocated from Puerto Rico to embark on the promising opportunities Hudson County has to offer. “What drew me to Hudson County was how easy it was to be a part of a diverse community. It is such a big melting pot where everyone is willing to help each other. There are people from all different backgrounds, young, old, and willing to mentor,” Angela shared. She quickly realized Hudson County was the destination to live, learn, and work to achieve her professional goals.

Angela started temping at numerous companies and agencies, looking to find her niche until the role of working in medical billing, as she describes, “fell into her lap.” She developed a valuable medical coding skill set, working her way up to a manager position. Along the way, she built meaningful relationships with the trust and support of physician colleagues and staff, allowing her to apply her expertise to open the doors of her business ASA Medical Billing Services, LLC, in Jersey City.

ASA Medical Billing Service has positioned itself as an important small business in the medical administration ecosystem within Hudson County. The service offers a seamless healthcare approach to physicians and patients through reimbursement methodology. During the pandemic, Angela saw an opportunity to strengthen her business and her skill set to be responsive to the evolving landscape.

The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (SHCCNJ) Latina Entrepreneurship Training Series (LETS) proved an important step in Angela’s professional development. “The SHCCNJ, in partnership with the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation (HCEDC), has allowed us to support women-owned businesses of the Hispanic community. Latina-owned small businesses are the state-economic drivers contributing to over two million Hispanic-owned businesses in the nation, which have seen over 87% growth in recent years,” stated Carlos A. Medina, President, SHCCNJ.

Angela has remained steadfast in her ability to learn and develop as a business owner amidst challenging times. “HCEDC helps people understand their business during changing times. Businesses need to recognize potential barriers and risks by developing a plan of intentionality that focuses on preparedness for relevant issues,” explained Michelle Richardson, Executive Director, HCEDC. Michelle continued, “Meaningful partnerships formed with national and local nonprofits and state agencies allow us to address and assist small businesses navigating the constantly changing landscape with designated programs such as our Climate Change Business Resiliency series.”

With the assistance of local economic development nonprofits, Angela has been empowered to redefine her business goals, learn new trends in marketing, and plan for potential risks. Angela reflects on future endeavors by sharing, “ASA Medical Billing Services will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in December, and as a way to give back to the community, I established three years ago the Medical Office Technologies Institute (MOTI) program to train students preparing to graduate high school in the healthcare coding professional industry to prepare the next generation of Hudson County residents for the future.”

Medical Billing & Coding students on their completion day of the certification course

Explore: ASA Medical Billing Services  
Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey

Download the November 2022 Business Spotlight at: ASA Medical Billing Services, LLC

Double Batch Bakery – Bayonne, New Jersey

When Rachel and Angel Hidalgo found out they were expecting twins they moved from Manhattan to Hudson County in 2009 to be closer to family and are now not only proud parents, but successful business owners.

“We always dreamed of opening a bakery of our own. Hudson County’s incredible diversity and network of resources turned out to be the perfect place. Our success here would not have been possible without the help of Djenaba Johnson-Jones, the owner of Hudson Kitchen, a food and beverage incubator in Kearny, Cheryl and Christopher Mack, the owners of Bridge Art Gallery, and the introductions made to organizations, including the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation (HCEDC),” shared Rachel.

“I established Hudson Kitchen in 2015 with the help of HCEDC and their lending partner UCEDC. My goal to build an inclusive and vibrant community of like-minded industry entrepreneurs continues to be realized through introductions and networking with businesses like Double Batch Bakery that are enriching our industry through their professional experiences and unique cultural approaches to food,” Djenaba Johnson-Jones shared.

Double Batch is bringing their unique cultures literally to the table. “I am Filipino and Indian, my husband is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian. Bayonne’s rich diversity has allowed us to incorporate these cultures into our food. Our customers love to learn about the variety of pastry we create and thanks to them we’re now exploring and integrating new recipes and ingredients for diverse holidays and occasions. Like Hudson County, we’re constantly changing and introducing fresh flavors and experiences to the community,” said Rachel.

“The HCEDC’s vision to create a vibrant ecosystem for our business community and partners takes shape with Double Batch Bakery and their success in Hudson County.  Our work with Hudson Kitchen has helped lay the groundwork for the growth of the region’s culinary renaissance and we are incredibly proud of that fact.  We actively promote and encourage business-to-business networking and relationships.  In Bayonne, the business community is very tightly knit, and they help each other, not only by doing business with each other but also by sharing information and resources. Local businesses like Bridge Art Gallery owner, Cheryl Mack operated as an adept networker and connecter.  Cheryl and her husband, Christopher, regularly invited the HCEDC to their gallery events to meet with businesses at their gallery and facilitated introductions,” shared Michelle Richardson, Executive Director, HCEDC.

“Hudson County is a multi-dimensional experience with arts and culture, small businesses and community-based organizations partnering together, HCEDC is a phenomenal resource helping to connect them all,” shared Cheryl Mack, Bridge Art Gallery. “Our vision was to create a welcoming space that would serve as a community hub to foster a strong and resilient community. The primary resource for Bayonne is the people and Double Batch Bakery is a great example of this; they make their goods with love and we make every effort to work with them. Over the past few years, we’ve come to realize that collaboration is key to our collective success through the pandemic and beyond.”

Double Batch Bakery’s success is why so many small businesses continue to choose Hudson County. Community organizations with a focus on business-to-business alliances in combination with flourishing diversity and vibrant, unique neighborhoods help make the dream of starting a business achievable. Hudson County’s collaborative economy is helping to pave the way for a bright future for entrepreneurs and a thriving local ecosystem.

Double Batch Bakery; famous for their signature Croissamada, a hybrid pastry, part croissant and part ensaymada (Filipino sweet bread made topped with butter, sugar, and cheese).

Discover Double Batch Bakery located in Bayonne  

Download the July 2022 Business Spotlight at: Double Batch Bakery

Hudson Kitchen 
Bridge Art Gallery


Fit 4 A Better Me, LLC.

When Brenda Green, a certified, professional NASM-CPT, Precision Nutrition Coach, and Strength Specialist, founded Fit 4 A Better Me in 2016, she embarked on an entrepreneurial journey that was both a personal mission and a community-building revolution. Today, this woman-owned and operated virtual fitness and health studio continues to empower, transform and inspire a diverse and dynamic group of women.

“I started my business to create a space for women to take care of their overall health. As women, we predominantly take the role of caregiver and put our care on hold. My journey as a cancer survivor reinforced the importance of health and wellness, as I was blessed to recover quicker than anticipated. However, my aunt, who helped care for me while I was ill, and unbeknownst to me, ignored her own health issues to her detriment. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Her death helped propel me forward in my drive to help other women to be healthier, fit, and a better version of themselves inside and out.”

When Brenda moved Fit 4 A Better Me to Hudson County, she immediately saw a benefit to her business. “I’ve traveled around the country and lived in many places, but nothing stuck like Hudson County did. When my husband and I made the move to Secaucus, I dedicated myself to taking my business to the next level by participating in all the great programs available to me.”  Brenda’s business journey started with an introduction to her future coach, Reina Valenzuela, of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (SHCCNJ), at a free business training class in Paterson. Reina helped facilitate her participation in various networking events and programs. Shortly after, Brenda was enrolled in the SHCCNJs Hispanic Entrepreneurship Training Program (HETP), where she was able to connect with other small business owners and learned how to not only strengthen her business model, but was also able to take advantage of other opportunities.

After completing the HETP program, Brenda entered a pitch competition hosted by Latinas in Business and was awarded a scholarship for Rutgers Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development/ Entrepreneurship Pioneers Initiative (CUEED/EPI) training program. When asked about her experience, Brenda reflected, “I had not realized the true value of Rutgers EPI program until meeting my mentors and coaches.” She continued, “with the guidance of Jasmine Cordero as my program manager, I was able to grow and plan for challenges. What is most inspiring is knowing that there is so much support for entrepreneurs to realize goals and take businesses to the next level. The experience is really “Familia,” working together, supporting and helping each other out.”
Over the past 14 years, we’ve helped over 600 entrepreneurs in New Jersey to build their brands, accelerate strategic alliances, and focus their finances,” says Lyneir Richardson, Executive Director of CUEED.  “Small businesses strengthen communities, and we’re proud to contribute to their growth and success.”

“The Hudson County Economic Development Corporation’s ongoing commitment to supporting growth and accelerating entrepreneurship is core to our mission. We’re proud to provide funding to the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Hispanic Entrepreneurship Training Program along with the Rutgers Business School Center for Urban Entrepreneurship & Economic Development Entrepreneurship as we continue to open doors throughout the County. Through the alignment of our partnerships, Hudson County’s business community had access to the training and skill set development necessary to prepare for, survive and thrive through the Covid-19 pandemic.” Michelle Richardson, Executive Director, Hudson County Economic Development Corporation.

“Being an entrepreneur anywhere takes grit, strength, and a willingness to learn. Here in Hudson County, I’ve found a welcoming and supportive community that keeps pushing forward to provide the right environment to help us grow. Working together and knowing that other people are on the same journey is an invaluable and inspiring experience. I’m often asked for words of advice for other entrepreneurs, and I always say, never give up and ask for help; there are so many programs through local organizations and Chambers. Get involved!”

Getting involved and making a difference in the lives of others takes many forms at Fit 4 A Better Me. For over 6 years, every December Brenda participates in the Kids Blessing Bag Project by helping to organize donations of essential items, clothing, and gifts to various local shelters. Always exploring ways to connect with more organizations focused on women’s health, Brenda is looking forward to expanding her community and discovering new doors opening for business owners and entrepreneurs.

Free 10-Week Summer Fitness Program held at Harmon Cove, Secaucus, NJ.

Download the May 2022 Business Spotlight at: Fit 4 a Better Me


Reynaldo Diaz, GID LLC.

Reynaldo Diaz immigrated from El Salvador to Guttenberg in the 1980s, where he received citizenship in the 1990s.  Today, he and his wife Suzanne Zikas are proud North Bergen residents who both work in fashion and the importing and exporting of textiles.

“We just love the diversity and small-town feeling here.  Coming from Latin America to a community comprised mostly of immigrants looking for a better life creates an ideal environment for entrepreneurs of all kinds.  Hudson County’s location can’t be beaten, it is just so accessible.  For our business, easy access to New York City and international shipping hubs is essential.” Reynaldo and Suzanne both agree there is nothing like the support and sense of unity they’ve experienced.

“Through COVID, I was unable to receive shipments and travel to meet clients and do business.  As a global company with a local footprint, this posed huge challenges for me.  Receiving the SBA loan from the UCEDC kept my business going while I worked from home while also allowing me to support all my local businesses.  The financial assistance I received at a local level is what quality of life is all about and is a unique feature of this amazing County,” shares Reynaldo.

Michelle Richardson, Executive Director, Hudson County Economic Development Corporation (HCEDC) shared, “We set out in 2017 to partner with a diverse group of lenders with the financial resources that align with HCEDC’s mission to assist our small business community.  We’re proud to have created a network for referrals through our affiliated partners to allow small businesses to access customized solutions for their unique needs.”

“The HCEDC and UCEDC are mission-driven to help small businesses succeed.  Our priorities aligned during the pandemic, and we were able to be even more responsive and accessible to local businesses.  This was a huge benefit to small businesses as the HCEDC was on the ground and in constant communication with partners and businesses to provide the best resources and options available.  Together, we built a powerful partnership and a seamless process for small business owners.” Adam Farrah, President, UCEDC.

Reynaldo reflects on being an entrepreneur in Hudson County.  “If you are looking to open a small business, but do not know where to start or how to financially open doors, look into resources in your area.  Fill out as many applications for loans as you can because organizations like HCEDC and UCEDC will be there to make it happen and offer advice.”


Chic Diva Spa

Every year, immigrants and entrepreneurs are choosing Hudson County as their home thanks to our diversity and accessibility to pursue their hopes and dreams. “Our mission at Hudson County Economic Development Corporation is to help them realize their goals by connecting them with the training, education, information and access to capital through our powerful network of partners,” said Michelle Richardson, Executive Director. Chic Diva Spa is one of the many stories which illustrate how it all comes together.

“The support we received from organizations such as UCEDC, The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, and others was critical to our success here.” Shared Ana Centeno, owner of Chic Diva Spa with partner Blanca Dole, “As immigrants from Honduras, we immediately felt welcomed in Hudson County and were provided with all the resources we needed to start our lives here.”

One of the first connections Ana made was with Reina Valenzuela of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey (SHCCNJ). Reina immediately went to work to assist Ana and Blanca by enrolling them into SHCCNJ’s HETP program; providing business coaching, renewal of business licenses, certifications, applying for loans, and necessary strategies to grow their business. Through the affiliated partnerships among the SHCCNJ and HCEDC, Ana was introduced to the UCEDC to provide them access to the capital the businesses needed through the pandemic.

“Our continuous goal is to promote community economic development. We provide our clients with access to entrepreneurial capital, and related business development services such as loans, loan packaging, government procurement assistance, training in English & Spanish, and technical mentoring services to offer small businesses solutions to challenging obstacles,” said Adam Farrah, President of UCEDC.

Chic Diva Spa, a Holistic Center operating in North Bergen since 2015, continues to be a valued service for the community, a place where clients become family and have the opportunity to recharge. When asked about what advice they have for other small business owners in Hudson County, Ana says without hesitation, “Education! Educate yourself about the resources available at a state, county, and community level. Take classes and training courses– most of them are free! It may be hard running a business all day, however, understanding how to do things properly for your business will only drive it to greater success.”


Brand Intelligence


Resilience is commonly associated with Hudson County and its diverse community of residents and businesses. Mary Olson’s branding and marketing firm, Brand Intelligence, exemplifies this quality and brings a unique perspective, vision, and skill set to the region.

Mary’s journey to  Hudson County began over 25 years ago when she was forced to leave her downtown New York City office due to the devastating attacks of 9/11. Mary continued her entrepreneurial drive by embarking on new business opportunities Jersey City offered. She immersed herself in the diverse community, networking, educating, and evolving her business into a branding advisory firm. Reflecting on Hudson County as a whole, she shared, “When I moved to Hudson County, I immediately felt welcomed by the business community and was impressed by the resources available to me to be able to rebuild my business. The cultural diversity and energy here continue to inspire me.”

The onset of the COVID-19 crisis posed extraordinary challenges for small business owners like Mary, who lost 80% of business revenue. Through the referral from Michelle Richardson, Executive Director of the Hudson County Economic Development Corporation (HCEDC), Mary connected with the New Jersey Small Business Development Center at New Jersey City University (NJSBDC at NJCU) and was provided with funding options to keep her business secure.

“The COVID-19 crisis presented unforeseen challenges to our business community. Our response to provide access to information, available funding, and resources was critical to the ongoing health and growth of the Hudson County economy.” Richardson stated. She facilitated the relationship between Mary and Karen McIntyre, Community Outreach & Employer Engagement at NJCU’s SBDC. “The New Jersey Small Business Development Centers’ network is committed to guiding established small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs to create and expand their business enterprises which will, in turn, result in sustainable growth, job creation and statewide economic development and prosperity.”

When asked about the importance of community relationships, Mary emphasized, “HCEDC, NJSBDC at NJCU, and Jersey City Economic Development Corporation reopened the doors for my business. HCEDC, with the leadership of Michelle Richardson, provides extraordinary knowledge and research into every resource available for small business owners like myself.” She continued, “These organizations focus on supporting entrepreneurs with the financial backing and personable reassurance to know someone is there thinking about you.” HCEDC is committed to supporting small business owners to continue to grow their business in Hudson County and advance economic development on a local level.

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