Latino Small Business Program gains momentum

by by Russell Shaffer | Rural Prosperity Nebraska

Mena’s Kitchen food truck
Russell Shaffer | Rural Prosperity Nebraska
Hilda Sanchez opened the Mena’s Kitchen food truck in 2015 with help from Sandra Barrera and the Latino Small Business Program.
July 6, 2022

Lincoln, Neb. —In a tree-lined neighborhood in northeast Grand Island, Carime Ruvalcaba cares for 10 children in the community’s only English- and Spanish-language daycare.

In 2020, when most daycares were closing due to the pandemic, Ruvalcaba opened Karime Childcare with the help of Sandra Barrera, a Rural Prosperity Nebraska extension educator.

An immigrant from Colombia, Barrera leads the Latino Small Business Program, a Rural Prosperity Nebraska initiative that helps immigrants start businesses across the Cornhusker State.

“She really helped me a lot,” Ruvalcaba said. “A big part of my career and my business is thanks to Sandra.”

Barrera said the focus of the program is to support entrepreneurs, making the process of starting a business as easy as possible.

“We deliver the program in their own language, so mostly Spanish,” Barrera said. “But we’ve helped Vietnamese-, Chinese- and English-speaking people.”

When Barrera talks about “process,” she’s referring to basically everything — proposals, budgets, taxes, location scouting, marketing, accounting, regulations, licenses, legal work and the eventual ribbon cutting. Lots of boxes to check.

“One thing we talk about is capital,” Barrera said. “We talk about credit reports, financing, budgeting. For example, Kearney has an occupation tax, so restaurants pay a percent to the city. It’s not clear how they’re charging that. Who’s teaching the restaurant owners how to do it? Communication is education.”

Barrera was the first person MyNor Barahona worked with when he came to Nebraska.

“She helped me with all the paperwork,” said Barahona, owner of New York Pizza, which opened in 2021. “And the best thing is she did not charge me, not even one penny.”

Checking off all those boxes — for free — is what Barrera excels at, and the numbers speak for themselves. In 2021, the Latino Small Business Program helped 160 entrepreneurs open shop. More than 70 have opened in 2022.

“Sandra helped me with the papers to make an LLC,” Ruvalcaba said. “She helped me with insurance and marketing, with a lot information about COVID when everything was really dangerous.”

Barrera has helped start up transportation agencies, construction companies, cleaning crews, restaurants, bakeries, event planning services, tattoo parlors, piercing salons, hair salons, painting companies, daycares, massage studios, T-shirt printers and marketing firms.

“We want to create a community, an environment where everyone works together,” she said.

Barrera further establishes that entrepreneurial community with the annual Latino Small Business Conference. Held three times between July and August, the conference is open to entrepreneurs and current business owners, and sessions are conducted in Spanish. Presentations focus on educating and connecting participants with experts, professionals, suppliers and vendors from various career fields, as well as training Latino entrepreneurs on business creation and small business development.

“This is how we support local small businesses, how we create diversity and inclusion,” Barrera said. “We educate businesses and communities. Any business. Any license. And it’s free.”

Since opening Karime Childcare, Ruvalcaba has completed the Child Development Associate program through the Nebraska Early Childhood Collaborative and her professional development verification, and is the first in-home childcare provider in Nebraska to be awarded a CDA with Spanish-speaking endorsement.

“If you want to be professional, you need to take a lot of training,” Ruvalcaba said. “The training Sandra gave me was really, really important to find another training and gain support.”

The Latino Small Business Conference will be held on the following dates:

  • July 23, Grand Island, College Park, 3180 U.S. Highway 34
  • July 30, Omaha, Nebraska Extension Douglas-Sarpy County Office, 8015 West Center Road
  • Aug. 6, Norfolk, Northeast Community College, Lifelong Learning Center, 801 E. Benjamin Ave.

Learn more about the conference.

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