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Alumni Achievement Award

Founder, Latino Economic Development Corp.

Andrew Melendez

Andrew Melendez today (above) and as a 40 Under Forty winner in 2015 .

“How has the candidate been able to inspire others through his or her work?”

That’s a question that was added to the nomination form for the Alumni Achievement Award a few years back, with the goal of gaining some additional insight into why a certain candidate is worthy of the prestigious award — beyond the positions and titles on a résumé or a list of contributions when it comes to community involvement.

And in many cases, that question has provided some keen insight into not just what someone does for a living, but the impact of what they do.

Such is the case with Andrew Melendez, founder of the Latino Economic Development Corp. and a driving force in helping aspiring business owners get a venture off the ground or to the next level.

“He serves as an inspiration by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success,” wrote Edna Rodriguez, director of Behavioral Health for Trinity Health Of New England. “His work highlights the transformative power of empowerment, education, and community support in overcoming barriers and realizing one’s full potential.”

And she had more to say on that subject.

“By championing inclusivity and providing opportunities for all, Andrew exemplifies the belief that everyone deserves a chance to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society,” Rodriguez went on. “His story serves as a beacon of hope and encouragement for those striving to build a brighter future for themselves and their communities, regardless of their starting point.”

Melendez’s story is, indeed, an intriguing and inspiring one, with several interesting chapters. These include everything from a short stint as coordinator of an early-literacy initiative led by the mayor of Holyoke to work managing and supervising about 500 substitute teachers for Springfield Public Schools; from a stint as executive director of the short-lived Agawam YMCA Family Center (he was in that role when he joined the 40 Under Forty class of 2015) to a turn in the private sector as operations director for CVS Health, where he was responsible for the efficient operation of multiple locations. There was also a stint as Western Mass. director for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

“He serves as an inspiration by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success.”

During that time with AIM, the pandemic hit, providing Melendez with some real insight into the reach and power of business assocations.

“They had an HR hotline; you could call and ask questions of a lawyer,” he recalled. “I said to myself, ‘this is amazing — all these multi-million-dollar companies are getting all this support.’ And I was thinking that, if all these large companies are getting support, we need to be giving support to our minority micro-businesses.”

This led to brainstorming, conducted with other leaders from the Latino community, such as state Sen. Adam Gomez, Springfield City Councilor Orlando Ramos (himself a past AAA finalist), and others to create the Latino Economic Development Corp.

The agency is unique in that it is not a chamber of commerce, nor a business incubator, although it serves as both in many ways. The LEDC provides support to entrepreneurs for all demographic groups (despite its name) in many ways and on many levels. That list includes everything from direct financial support through grants to a pool of coaches — experts who can assist entrepreneurs with everything from writing a business plan to marketing and public relations to support with coping with the huge amounts of stress that come with having one’s name on the business.

And over the past 30 months or so, the agency has made some real strides.

“We’ve brought close to 15 new businesses to downtown Springfield, we’ve given out $200,000 in mini-grants, and we’ve started a new cohort called the Latino Economic Development Institute, and we’ve just graduated 40 people in that cohort, and we have another 15 graduating this week … I could go on and on,” he said. “We have 12 different coaches doing one-on-one coaching; we’re leading the charge in micro-business support.”

Melendez, who was has been instrumental in getting the LEDC off the ground, shaping its unique mission, and running its operation, told BusinessWest that the work is impactful — and inspirational on many levels — although nothing about entrepreneurship is easy, so some of the conversations are difficult.

“Almost every day, I’m talking with someone who has this great idea that they want to bring to the table; they want to talk about creating a business plan, and I walk them through the process,” he said. “But small businesses and micro-businesses do fail; just this morning, I was talking with someone … they’re having a hard time, they’re not sure what to do, and don’t know whether to close their doors or not.

Whether it’s those first conversations — the ones about taking a bright idea to market and developing a business plan — or the harder ones, about whether to keep the doors open, the goal is the same, he said: to provide the business owner with support and a plan for moving forward.

“There are exciting conversations, and there are hard conversations,” he went on. “And I love the environment we’ve created, which is in many ways the first of its kind in the Bay State.”

For Melendez, this latest work is the culmination of everything that came before it career-wise, steps where he developed a passion for others and cultivated myriad skills, especially when it comes to organization, building teams, developing relationships, making connections, and getting things done.

All of this has come together at the LEDC, where not all dreams come true, but all dreams are given their best chance to come true.

And Melendez, through his work and the example he has set, is a huge part of the agency’s success.

As Rodriguez noted, he serves as an inspiration “by demonstrating that, with access to the right resources and support, individuals from any background can achieve prosperity and success.”

This has made Melendez a leader, a 40 Under Forty honoree, and now, an Alumni Achievement Award finalist.

—George O’Brien

Business Talk Podcast Special Coverage

We are excited to announce that BusinessWest has launched a new podcast series, BusinessTalk. Each episode will feature in-depth interviews and discussions with local industry leaders, providing thoughtful perspectives on the Western Massachuetts economy and the many business ventures that keep it running during these challenging times.

Go HERE to view all episodes

Episode 132: October 10, 2022

George Interviews Andrew Melendez, director of Operations, Latino Economic Development Council

Turning employees into employers. Turning consumers into producers. Those are two of the broad goals behind creation of the Latino Economic Development Council. For the next installment of BusinessTalk, BusinessWest editor George O’Brien talks with Andrew Melendez, director of Operations for this agency, about its unique model and mission and the many ways it will measure success. It’s must listening, so join us for BusinessTalk, a podcast presented by BusinessWest  and sponsored by PeoplesBank.

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