Photos courtesy of Cambodian American Business Association
The fourth annual Business and Culture Expo hosted by the Cambodian American Business Association, an event designed to bring together business owners, entrepreneurs and Cambodian community members, will be held Sunday August 25 in the parking lot of the Mark Twain Library.
However, the event that will feature traditional dancers from the Khmer Arts Cultural Center, a performance from the Ancient Khmer Martial Arts Association of America and food from Sophy’s Thai and Cambodian Cuisine is much more than a five-hour-long business fair. It’s an opportunity for an often-overlooked portion of the city to shine.
Remy Hou, the event coordinator and treasurer for CAMBA, said that the expo is a way to break down barriers and welcome other residents of the city into the Cambodian culture. Hou, who also is a clothing designer, will be putting on a fashion show for his company Engineered by Remy. He’s well aware of the power of community awareness propelling business growth.
“It gives the businesses an opportunity to get people who would normally not go to a restaurant or business that’s on a certain block or certain area,” Hou said. “But when it’s here in a parking lot where everyone is familiar with the area it makes it easier to talk to the owner, try out the food and check out their products.”
That has been the aim of CAMBA since it started in 2009--to assist area businesses with anything from filing paperwork with the city, marketing and maybe most importantly, acting as translators to help fight the language barrier.
Every year, the expo has grown in both attendance and participation from local businesses and those from outside the city. The foot traffic is great for individual businesses, but the networking and the establishment of a sense of community is something CAMBA hopes they can instill.
Vibol Hou, vice president of CAMBA, recognized the challenges of trying to get over 300 business owners in the city to network and trust each other. But, through their outreach programs and a series of neighborhood walks headed by Danny Vong, a retired and honorary goodwill ambassador for the association, CAMBA has been chipping away.
“These businesses are so busy from eight to eight running their businesses that they don’t have the time to get out there and network or communicate with anyone else that’s potentially in their field,” Vibol said. “The outreach that we’ve been doing with these walks and this expo is to help facilitate the introduction of these businesses to each other."
The walks have raised awareness but have also garnered something just as valuable: business cards. The association assembled the cards into a directory and printed 2,500 copies that will be available at the expo. CAMBA is also sending 500 copies back to the homeland in Cambodia as they continue to try and establish a business relationship between Cambodia and the U.S. This year’s theme is aptly named “Export Opportunity.”
Vibol estimated that U.S. exports to Cambodia only account for about two percent of Cambodians imports. He acknowledged that as with most things, money is a factor. And with the average Cambodian making only dollars a day, basic necessities are likely to be the first exports rather than high priced American goods. However, CAMBA wants to start the dialogue between the two countries because they believe the demand is there, they just need the supply.
But before they can start invigorating the international market, their main focus is here in Long Beach. Getting the businesses to network and talk to each other will be beneficial to their bottom lines. But Vibol says that working as one will play an integral role in getting the Anaheim corridor, where many Cambodian businesses rest, a much needed facelift.
“The businesses have to work together to make this area improve for themselves,“ Vibol said. “They have to rally together and start a [Business Improvement District] with the city along that corridor to receive city funding to help do things like plant trees along the side walk, clean alleys and graffiti and change light bulbs.”
Although the expo is the crowning moment every year for CAMBA, they’re moving into the future thinking of ways to better the community for Cambodian businesses outside of the expo. Holding seminars about the power of using social media and just getting owners to embrace other modernizations are a start for CAMBA. Once the festivities of the expo are over, the two men will press forward and continue developing their game plans to not only get Cambodian businesses into the mainstream but to also get mainstream businesses investing in Cambodia, both in Long Beach and abroad.
“We’re trying to think bigger,“ Vibol said. “It used to be every year all we did was the expo, the expo, the expo,” Vibol said. “Now it’s the expo, follow up seminars…It’s looking to be a really promising year.”
The 4th Annual Cambodian American Business and Culture Expo will take place from 10AM to 3PM in the Mark Twain Library Parking lot at 1401 E. Anaheim St. For more information, visit www.cambaonline.org