Latino entrepreneurs bring vitality to rural America

Rural America hosts a growing number of small businesses, many owned by Latino entrepreneurs.

One way residents of small communities can show support for their neighbors is by simply visiting these businesses and getting to know the owners.

Griselda Rendon, Center for Rural Affairs Latino loan specialist, and Sandra Barrera, extension educator of community vitality with University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), joined together to talk about this topic and the services their organizations provide on the Rural Matters podcast.

Teamwork makes the dream work

The Center for Rural Affairs’ Rural Enterprise Assistance Project (REAP) and University of Nebraska join forces to provide entrepreneurs many services, including financial assistance, business training, technical assistance, and continuous education.

“We offer educational courses to help business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Sandra. “We do business counseling, and we try to make connections and network with our Latino entrepreneurs.”

“REAP and UNL have a great partnership which can help our Latino business owners,” said Griselda. “Sandra’s organization provides the space, and REAP brings in the guest speakers who come to some of the presentations.”

Workshops offered in both English and Spanish have included business plan basics, online marketing, and even industry-specific classes, such as “Cleaning Academy” and “Emerging Small Construction Start-ups.” For a complete list of trainings, visit Be sure to bookmark this site as trainings are added every week.

Getting started, then paying it forward

The partnering organizations help entrepreneurs find the resources needed to start their businesses, and recommend that they continue utilizing their services.

“We encourage Latino entrepreneurs to follow their dreams, to follow their passion,” said Sandra. “We have conversations about motivation and give them the tools they’re going to need to start. We created a program, our Coffee Tables, that are offered every second Saturday. At Coffee Tables, we have workshops, speakers, a time to meet and greet, make contacts, and see how other people work their businesses.”

“Even if they don’t know where to start, we want them to come see us and talk to us,” said Griselda. “We can help them and guide them through that process. We can help them decide, ‘Yes, this is for me’ or ‘No, it’s not for me.’”

Once up and running, some Latino business owners mentor new entrepreneurs by guiding them through the business start up process based on their own previous experiences—whether that’s advice on the best cash register to use or the most effective training programs to attend.

“The established business owners have opened up their doors to share information to the new entrepreneurs coming in,” said Griselda. “They provide that for them so they can make a more successful choice as to what operating system to utilize.”

Overcoming obstacles

Often, there can be challenges when starting up a business. Though Latino entrepreneurs face some unique issues, REAP and UNL are ready to lend a helping hand.

“The language barrier can be tricky,” said Griselda. “Most of our Latino entrepreneurs are migrant entrepreneurs. They don’t feel comfortable when it comes to the legality of things, so both Sandra and I go with them to help interpret. We translate for them, and we translate documents as well. That’s one of the biggest challenges that they face.”

Community outreach and promotion of the services REAP and UNL offer can be difficult to navigate at times, too.

“Our best tools are our clients,” said Sandra. “They help us promote our programs around town. We also promote things on social media like Facebook, as well as in newspapers, on radio, and through other local businesses around the area. We also contact the city administrators that would be involved in businesses.”

Becoming part of the community

The partnering organizations assist entrepreneurs with becoming integrated into the greater business community as well.

“We have educational programs where we tell the entrepreneurs how to reach out to the community, and work on a marketing plan for them,” said Sandra. “For the first year, we help them market their business.”

The relationship goes beyond that first year.

“We keep conversations going all the time with them,” said Sandra. “We communicate at Coffee Tables and trainings, and that gives us the opportunity to hear how they’re doing and what they need. And, we visit—we go to the stores and see how they’re doing and make comments and recommendations to improve.”

Getting to know your neighbors

Any small business owner strives for repeat customers and steady business. Latino business owners are no different, and hope to gain community support.

“These business owners are very friendly,” said Griselda. “They are family-owned businesses, and you feel very welcome when you walk into their stores.”

“Our entrepreneurs take a risk to do something different, so we just want to support them,” said Sandra. “So, with every opportunity we promote local business in the community. Please go visit the local businesses in your town.”

Looking toward the future

Each organization has plans to continue increasing inclusion and success for Latino entrepreneurs in small communities.

Each year during October, which is Hispanic Heritage Month, the Center for Rural Affairs hosts a walking tour of Latino-owned businesses in Grand Island.

“In Grand Island, most Latino-owned businesses are on Main Street,” said Griselda. “We take tours to different businesses, and we offer this free of charge both for those visiting and those participating. We introduce the owners and have the attendees look around in the store. Having that interaction between the owner and the attendees has been very successful in the last few years.”

And, UNL hopes to continue and expand their Community Vitality Initiative (CVI), a program to develop and implement best-practice solutions to grow business, create vibrant communities, and engage youth and young adults.

“In 2018, we began the CVI academic program, where we started teaching the basics of business, like basic marketing, legal issues, internet, and taxes,” said Sandra. “We saw the need to offer curriculum for professional programs based on what field they’re working on, so we offered a cleaning academy and had 40 women come for the training. For 2019, we are working on trainings for child care and restaurants.”

By the numbers

  • In 2016, REAP and UNL began their partnership to help Latino-owned businesses, and today they assist 123 businesses all over Nebraska.
  • 90 (most) of those businesses are in Grand Island, and include restaurants, travel agencies, tattoo parlors, nail salons, and more.
  • Approximately 80 percent of those businesses have received financing or loans through REAP.
  • More than 60 percent of the businesses belong to women.
  • 67 workshops or training events were offered collaboratively by REAP and UNL in 2018.

To listen to this episode of Rural Matters, click here.