FORGE, Inc., has hired a director focused on removing barriers the Latin community faces in accessing capital.
When visiting his hometown of Hope, Jay Young knows who to contact if he needs his clothes ironed or if he wants to eat “some of the best dinners after church on Sunday.” While many of these service providers operate like a business, they’re not structured like one.
As the minority business development director for FORGE, Inc. — the oldest revolving community loan fund in Arkansas — Young works to bridge the gap for entrepreneurs, educating them about the benefits of establishing a business and the resources available to support them. One of the biggest barriers Young faces in his work is helping minority communities understand the importance of establishing a business from a generational standpoint.
Passing on a successful enterprise to family members can help close the wealth gap that has long existed between minority families and their white counterparts. The 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances found the average White family has eight times the wealth of a Black family and five times the wealth of a Hispanic family. For those skeptical about establishing something like a sole proprietorship, Young says they should consider the economic impact of inheriting a family business.
“How would it have made you feel if someone left you something instead of you having to cover them when they pass away?” he asks.
Based in Huntsville, FORGE is a nonprofit organization that provides access to affordable capital and business development services to small businesses and nonprofits that are financially viable, but have difficulty obtaining loans from banks and other conventional lenders. Since its establishment in 1988, the organization has served entrepreneurs throughout the Ozarks and the state of Arkansas with technical assistance, business development training and microlending, working primarily with low-income individuals and services tailored to those communities.
“We’re about helping the underserved business owner obtain funding to help either start their business, grow their business or really truly scale their business,” Young says.
While Young was growing up, he says it was unheard of for a business to be minority-owned. Now in his mid-50s, he’s seen a big shift. Nearly 19 percent — 1.1 million — of employer businesses in the United States were minority-owned in 2019, according to the Census Bureau. Hispanic-owned businesses accounted for about 6 percent of all businesses, representing a 4.6 percent growth from the year prior.
To reach out to that growing sector of Hispanic entrepreneurs, FORGE has hired Sandra Carrasco-Quezada to be its director of Latinx business development. Originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, Carrasco-Quezada has lived in the U.S. for more than 14 years and is herself an entrepreneur who co-owns the Springdale restaurant Bites & Bowls with her sister.
When considering how to help the state’s Hispanic community, Carrasco-Quezada notes it’s younger than Latin communities in bigger cities. While other communities have established networks and know where to go for resources, Hispanic entrepreneurs in Arkansas are still learning.
“We don’t know a lot of resources that Latinos have because we haven’t built that ecosystem yet,” she says. “So we’re just getting started and I love that I’m part of the conversation when that comes up because it’s needed.”
Despite a lack of support, Arkansas has successful Hispanic-owned businesses and Carrasco-Quezada says she’s excited to see what comes next. Since joining the FORGE team in July 2021, one of the biggest challenges Carrasco-Quezada has faced is educating the public about FORGE because many entrepreneurs don’t even know they exist. New to nonprofit work, she says the community outreach component has been challenging.
“My background is engineering so I’m so used to processes…and yeah it’s really important, but it’s the connection with the people that actually matters,” she says. “You need to connect with the people you are serving.”
In speaking with the Latin community, Carrasco-Quezada has encountered hesitancy about applying for funding from FORGE because people wonder if it’s a scam. Additionally, Hispanics often have a different perception of debt than white Americans and just want to avoid it, Carrasco-Quezada says. Language can also be a barrier to the community acquiring financial assistance.
Keeping the community’s needs and concerns in mind, Carrasco-Quezada has continued working to educate entrepreneurs through outreach and has even developed a way to support immigrant business owners. An entrepreneur is not required to be a citizen to start a business in the United States. Because people who are not citizens don’t have a social security number, the Internal Revenue Service assigns them an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number or ITIN to pay their taxes. Immigrants can now also use that number to apply for a loan through FORGE.
“I think it’s going to be a big thing, a big impact in the community,” Carrasco-Quezada says.
While a lot of focus is placed on financial capital, she notes it’s equally important for entrepreneurs to consider social capital, which can be difficult for immigrants who’ve just moved to the country.
“As an immigrant, sometimes when we move here we know three people, and if we’re lucky we may know 15,” Carrasco-Quezada says. “So we’re always going to be a little behind on that and it’s going to take us a little bit longer to get at the same level as a white-owned firm.”
While it does take work, she says it is possible to build those community relationships to help support small businesses. It’s also possible for minority-owned businesses to receive financial capital through FORGE which has staff like Carrasco-Quezada who says she’s happy to answer questions and assist with the application process.
“We do this every day so if we don’t have the answer, we just guide them where they may have that answer or connect them with the person that can support them on whatever endeavor they’re working on,” she says.
More information about FORGE as well as loan applications are available in English and Spanish at www.forgefund.org.