By Guest Columnist GIGI PEDRAZA, executive director and founder of Latino Community Fund
From the carpet industry’s rapid growth in Dalton in the 1980s to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to Georgia’s continued economic growth right now, our state has repeatedly drawn in Latino immigrants with the promise of a chance to live the American Dream and provide a better life for their children. Today, over a million people with Latin American roots live in Georgia.
Aligned with our strategic priority of building wealth in Latino/Hispanic communities in the state, the Latino Community Fund is engaged in a research project aiming at advancing knowledge of Latino business owners and identifying how these Georgians and their businesses can have greater success and expanded opportunities.
The 2018 Georgia Latino Entrepreneurship Report (GLER) aims to be a powerful tool for decision-makers at the policy, programmatic and implementation level across industries and fields, providing evidence-based data on the needs, challenges and assets of the diverse and vibrant Latino business community in the state.
The report came to be through many individuals’ dogged research, as well as support from collaborations with Stanford [University] Graduate School of Business Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business and UGA’s Small Business Development Center – Office of Minority Business Development.
Barriers to affordable mortgage credit, language barriers, high student debt, underemployment and legal status limit many Latinos’ access to traditional wealth-building avenues. As a result, entrepreneurship becomes a crucial path toward achieving the American Dream within the Latino community.
Therefore, in order to create jobs, improve community institutions and build up individual and familial wealth, it is critical to work in removing obstacles to business ownership and growth.
The 2019 GLER was able to segment Latino business owners by barriers to growth, funding six main impediments our business owners face. They include challenges to accelerating growth; policy and regulatory environment;l lack of capital and knowledge about securing it; limited exposure to personal and professional networks; limited management and administrative capabilities, and personal and family needs.
In many of these cases, our state and local chambers of commerce, along with community organizations, cities and counties are well-positioned to make a difference. These groups can facilitate Latino businesses obtain minority certifications, create support systems and expand business owners’ knowledge about funding options and other processes for securing investment in their businesses.
Organizations just need to define the segment to focus on and proactively look for a better product-market fit with their services, and programs. Different solutions are needed for different segments.
Furthermore, Georgia needs to embrace improved educational and family-friendly policies. Make no mistake – these policies are also business-friendly, as it became clear from the study that the majority of Latino business clients are from the surrounding communities.
Other entrepreneurs, more than half of them women, say that their primary challenges are related to safety net issues. They include access to affordable health care, housing, and child care. Addressing these concerns will help close the opportunity gap for Latina women in Georgia and directly benefit numerous low-income families.\
Finally, Latino entrepreneurs are limited by Georgia’s current business regulations.
Undocumented Latinos and other undocumented immigrants face perhaps the biggest of these challenges before they are even able to start a business. In 2011, the state Legislature passed House Bill 87, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act. The law required evidence that an applicant for a business license or other documents needed to run a business has approval to use the federal work authorization program. Essentially, this instituted a citizenship requirement for Georgia business owners to operate lawfully, pay taxes and act as a visible part of their local communities and economies.
Reducing this burdensome licensing restriction would allow additional Latino businesses to start and flourish, powered by individuals who call Georgia home and have dedicated most of their lives to build and contribute to this country.
Speaking broadly, Georgia’s business regulations can also be made more straightforward to help ease the transition and formalization of a hobby or a commercial activity into an actual business.
My hope is that, particularly during this year’s Immigrant Heritage Month, Georgia legislators and business organizations will take time to consider our report’s findings and work to implement these solutions. There is no silver bullet or magic wand to address these issues immediately. Rather, it is on many of us in the business and legislative communities to take concrete steps toward helping our state’s Latino entrepreneurs – and the Latino Community Fund is here to help make that happen.
Note to readers: Gigi Pedraza is the executive director and founder of Latino Community Fund, an organization that supports Latino-serving nonprofit organizations in Georgia with advocacy, program development, technical assistance and collaborative grant making.