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Valley Cool: Keeping Profitable and Green in Pacoima

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John Hernandez with ICON Community Development Corp. staff Karen Cervantes and Deborah Helt

The Frying Pan recently visited John Hernandez, the owner of a State Farm Insurance agency in Pacoima, a blue-collar community  located in the North San Fernando Valley. He is also a member of the Pacoima Chamber of Commerce, Arleta Neighborhood Council, Pacoima Neighborhood Council, LAPD Foothill Area Booster Association and a member business of Icon Community Development Corp.

Frying Pan: You opened your insurance office in July 2010 — why open in such tough economic times?

John Hernandez: I guess you could say I have that entrepreneurial spirit — being in the business for over 20 years, I felt the need to open my own. I wanted to come to a community where there was no presence from other major carriers. I felt like there was a need in Pacoima for affordable insurance and a preferred carrier. I have four employees, so I was also focused on bringing some jobs to the community.

FP: Can you talk a little bit about what you’ve seen in your community over the last few years as young people are coming out of school looking for jobs with a very limited number of quality jobs available? 

JH: It starts with education. Unfortunately we’re seeing more and more [college] fees going up, making it harder for kids to get a higher education. There is money available at the state and federal level, but it’s really about making sure students are aware of what’s out there. Another issue is the lack of jobs and opportunities.

FP: What is your business doing to conserve energy and how is this affecting your operations?

JH: In the summer months, I’ve seen our bill almost double because of the need for air conditioning, so we keep the lights off in the office during business hours, and we have plenty of natural light from outside, so there’s no need to have all the lights on. We turn equipment off in the evenings and on the weekends, and there’s no air on when the office is empty, like on the weekends. We also use the low wattage light bulbs. Even with these efforts, I’m still paying over $300 a month for 1,200 square feet.

FP: Do you think building retrofits could help keep your costs down and help with energy efficiency?

JH: Absolutely. As a small business owner, any way I can save money and use that money toward other resources relative to growing my business would be beneficial.

FP: Do you have any thoughts for small business owners in L.A. regarding energy efficiency?

JH: I challenge other small business owners to look at their own offices and think of three ways to save energy on a daily basis. While it might be something small, it takes a large group to make a difference. As energy prices rise, we can work together to keep our costs down.

FP: Research indicates that low-income communities are more likely to be located near polluting industries and are often the first ones to experience the negative effects of pollution. On the flip side, there is often a public perception that people in low-income neighborhoods are not interested in environmental activism or conservation. 

JH: I will say – not necessarily as a business owner, but from being involved and engaged in the community as part of the neighborhood councils – despite the fact that the income levels are lower in this area, there is a lot of pride in this community relative to making sure this a clean and green environment. Taking pride in where you live crosses all economic barriers.

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