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LATINOS URGED TO COOPERATE IN BUSINESS.

Byline: JULIA M. SCOTT Staff Writer

Latino businesses, including many in the San Fernando Valley, are growing at a record pace.

By 2010, the number of Latino-owned companies will increase by 54 percent, according to Rick Sarmiento, chairman of the Latin Business Association.

That growth could be even more dramatic if Latinos worked together more, experts said at an LBA conference at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday.

For an example of how Latinos should cooperate, business leaders pointed to an unlikely source -- filmmaker and Academy Award winner Mel Gibson.

Gibson employed all Latino actors and crews for his new movie, ``Apocalypto,'' about the end of Mayan civilization. The movie was filmed mostly in Mexico and will hit theaters Dec.8.

Sarmiento presented Gibson with a plaque for ``spotlighting'' the Latino community in the movie.

The actor and director spent eight months casting, hiring a slew of actors who were new to the profession, Gibson said during a 30-minute chat with Sarmiento at the conference.

``If I was in the film, it would have wrecked it,'' Gibson said, drawing laughs from a crowd of about 300 people.

It was the star's first public appearance since getting arrested for drunken driving on the Pacific Coast Highway Aug.2. There was no mention of his subsequent anti-Semitic comments that he later said he was ashamed to have made.

Gibson praised the Latino actors, set designers, and makeup artists who worked on the film, saying they were ``high caliber'' and had an ``outrageous'' work ethic.

Earlier, during a discussion on cultural differences, banker Albert Gomez said Latinos need to do more business with one another.

``In the Asian or Jewish community, money cycles through six or seven times before leaving,'' Gomez said.

But a competitive, do-it-yourself attitude often prevents Latinos from helping one another. ``That's the culture: I did it on my own; you do it on your own.''

To continue thriving, Latino businesses need to find countries where the middle class is growing and expand abroad, experts said at the opening session of the conference.

The United States used to lend the most credit, but now it carries the most debt, said Demos Vardiabasis, an economics professor at Pepperdine University. China doubled the dollar value of goods it produced in 10 years, an accomplishment that took the United States a half-century.

``You have to think and act globally,'' Vardiabasis said.

David Solis, an insurance agent for Farmers in Van Nuys, is content to grow his business locally.

He is adding 50 clients a month, partly because he is the only Spanish- speaking agent at the Van Nuys office, he said. Previously, he brought on about 20 new clients each month.

``I can educate them about insurance,'' he said. ``They use basic, but when I explain about higher coverage, they get that.''

The growth Solis is seeing will soon spread beyond Los Angeles, said Gil Toruno, co-owner of Primerica, a financial services company in Pasadena.

``It's going to start spreading through the U.S.,'' he said. ``We can have a piece of this (national) market as well.''

julia.scott(at)dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 3, 2006
Words:520
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