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Local AAPI Business Owners Gather in Roundtable and Share Resources


Chiing Tong, president and CEO of National ACE, speaks during a roundtable April 25, 2022 in Modesto where Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen sits in the background.

Dozens of small business owners gathered in Modesto on Monday for a discussion hosted by the Asian American National Chamber of Commerce and Entrepreneurship.

The event, part of National ACE’s Small Business Roundtable Series, brought together local Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) business owners, as well as local and state activists. The conference was organized in partnership with Bay Valley Tech, the Stanislaus Chinese Association, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce and the Central Valley Hispanic Chamber. The event, which took place at Modesto Center Plaza, was attended by over 50 attendees.

May marks AAPI Heritage Month, and Monday’s event set the stage by giving small business owners and community leaders a space to talk about the challenges and triumphs they’ve experienced over the past two years during the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 has hit AAPI companies particularly hard, as anti-Asian American hatred has spread across the country. Many business owners have faced harassment and declining sales, and organizations like National ACE, which represents 2.2 million AAPI small business owners across the country, have stepped in with grants and various campaigns to help community members and business owners.

According to the Kaufmann Index of Entrepreneurship 2019, a As an indicator of new business creation in the United States, approximately 6.2% of small businesses in the country belong to AAPI.

Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that has emerged as the leading data collection organization on racially motivated attacks related to the pandemic, counted 10,905 hate incidents against AAPI people from March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021.

“We feel your pain for the past two years,” National ACE President and CEO Chiing Tong told attendees Monday. “We dealt with two viruses: one is COVID-19, the other is anti-AAPI hate.”

Tong spoke with participants about National ACE resources and other organizations they can turn to for help and support. Small business owners from across the county — from a photographer to a pest control business owner and a couple with a new flooring business — shared their stories of resilience during the pandemic and the ways they have had to adjust to their new reality.

Tony Pastran, who runs Powell and Pastran Pest Management, said it had been stressful setting up his two-person business over the past year. So far, they have managed to expand to 23 cities, he said, and this growth would not have been possible without the support of local community organizations.

“It was an amazing race,” he said.

Trong Vuong, owner of Modesto’s Asian Market on McHenry Avenue, reopened his business in late 2020 after the old store burned down in a fire. “The pandemic didn’t affect us too much (initially, because) we were building during this time,” Vuong said.

Since then, his business has been hit with stockouts due to global supply chain issues, but business has picked up again. He said he was grateful to the local community for supporting his business over the past few years.

Modesto Mayor Sue Zwahlen thanked National ACE on behalf of the city council, thanking the organization for its efforts to support and educate AAPI business owners across the city and region.

“I’m really impressed with our Modesto small business community,” Zwahlen said. “You are all a vital, central part of Modesto’s economic development as you create jobs, breathe life into our communities and help us generate vital revenue for the city.”

Zwahlen spoke about the pressures small businesses face during the pandemic, from operating restrictions to financial challenges, as well as the additional hardships facing AAPI businesses that have fought AAPI hate in their communities.

“Let me be clear,” she announced. “There is no place for hate here in Modesto. Nothing. Modesto is a city for everyone, and your businesses and families are more than welcome.

To help fund The Bee’s economic development reporter with Report for America, go to story was produced with financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, as well as the GroundTruth Project’s Report for America initiative. The Modesto Bee retains full editorial control of this work.

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Kristina Karisch is an economic development reporter for The Modesto Bee. It covers the economic recovery and development of Stanislaus County and the northern San Joaquin Valley. His position is funded by financial support from the Stanislaus Community Foundation, as well as the Report for America initiative of the GroundTruth project. The Modesto Bee retains full editorial control of its work.