Despite the down economy being on everybody’s mind, there was much to celebrate this year at the Minnesota Hmong Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet held at the historical Landmark Center in down town St. Paul on February 24.
Billed as a “celebration of business success”, this year’s Banquet shed light on the many positive notes that continues to resonate throughout the Hmong business community.
Cheerful applause followed the announcement that the Chamber had finally hired an executive director to take the helm after this position sat vacant for more than a year. Surprising to some, the new executive director is none other than Lao Lu Hang, a long-time Chamber board member who recently left his position as a commercial banker at Western Bank.
“For my first official act as the new executive director for the Chamber, may I direct you to the donation envelopes at your table,” Hang joked as he took the stage. “Good to know I’m doing my job, right?”
Optimism was the central theme of Dr. Bruce Corrie’s keynote presentation. A professor of economics at Concordia University, Dr. Corrie highlighted the positive impact that Hmong businesses and consumers have on the overall economy in Minnesota.
“We see the upward climb of the Hmong community. Many have become home owners, business owners and have become less reliant on public assistance. More and more Hmong are moving away from the cities and into the suburbs, but still coming back to the cities to do their shopping, which is great!”
Emceed by the ever buoyant Lee Pao Xiong from the Center for Hmong Studies, the cheerful air continued into the awards ceremony where the Chamber recognizes the accomplishments and contributions of area businesses, organizations and individuals.
First up was a tribute to a future leader when the Chamber awarded its education scholarship to Hannah Yang for her excellence in school and the community.
Next, Wameng Moua accepted the Bridge Award on behalf of Hmong Today which was recognized for the newspaper’s ongoing efforts to connect the Chamber’s mission with the community at large.
“We have good news in the Hmong community,” Moua stated in his brief speech, highlighting some noteworthy news items that made the crowd cheer with approval.
The Leadership Award went to Kazoua Kong-Thao for her outstanding contributions as a board member of the St. Paul Public Schools.
And finally, the highlight of the evening culminated with the presentation of Business of the Year Award to Shua and Jou Xiong, owners of Golden Harvest, a longstanding grocery store on the East Side of St. Paul.
Despite stiff competition from a nearby Rainbow Foods and the recent addition of a Cub Foods in the same neighborhood, Golden Harvest continues to grow strong, the Xiongs remarked.
“Our biggest accomplishment which we are very proud of,” Said Shua to the audience. “Is that we are able to employ more than 50 people from the neighborhood, which is our way of stimulating the economy.”
Briefly touching on the tough times, the Xiongs reminded everybody that business had not always been so smooth. It was the ability to forge strong relationships between themselves, vendors, lenders and customers that brought them through those challenging times.
Having just finished the final touches of a major renovation, Golden Harvest is the shining example of how a Hmong business can grow from being ‘mom and pop’ into being an economic force, not only in the Hmong community, but in the mainstream as well. As usual with all Chamber events, the evening ended with guests trading business cards and making their last rounds of hand shaking.