Developing Latino entrepreneur support networks: the Wapello County microloan
Since 2004, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach has been working with Latino entrepreneurs in Iowa and the Midwest to better understand the needs of the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. After several studies and requests from communities, ISU determined the strengths and weaknesses that Latino Entrepreneurs face, to further encourage sustainable entrepreneurship among newcomers to the Midwest. While urban areas have been intensively studied, the focus has been geared towards rural areas since these are the areas where Latinos have made the biggest impact in the last two decades. The last two decades refer to impact in terms of percentages of growth in population and businesses. Iowa State University has designed several programs aimed at educating Latinos in communities, helping to develop necessary leadership skills, and participate in the communities that they live and work in. One of the key findings in working with Latino entrepreneurs in the Midwest was the lack of knowledge and support of some key business concepts such as: 1) marketing; 2) expansion techniques; 3) taxes; 4) permits; and 5) portfolio diversification (Borich, 2009). To approach and address these issues, ISU Extension and Outreach developed the Latino Business Outreach Program. In Wapello County, Extension partnered with different community agencies and volunteers to start a Microloan program with goals to promote entrepreneurship, leadership and mentor Latino entrepreneurs. The program, still in its initial steps, has become a model of inspiration on how communities can take a non-traditional approach to economic development, social integration and leadership development. Microlending is becoming an important alternative to underserved businesses (Bernanke, 2007) because it provides flexible, fast, small financing and can educate entrepreneurs. We know from research that small businesses can be an answer to the economic issues in rural communities (Martinez, 2005). By creating the necessary tools needed to help those small businesses flourish we can bring economic and social wealth to communities in rural America.