Economic Growth and Opportunity: Encouraging Latino Business
Marta Sonia Londoño Mejia, executive director of the Midlands Latino Community Development Corporation (MLCDC)
Raising the Bar | Economic Growth and Opportunity | November 2017
“The Midlands Latino Community Development Corporation is a non-profit organization with the mission of helping bring Hispanic/Latino residents out of poverty by creating jobs, fueling economic growth, and providing bi-lingual workforce and business education,” says Marta Sonia Londoño Mejia, executive director of the Midlands Latino Community Development Corporation (MLCDC). One aspect of that mission is to encourage small business start-ups and expansion with comprehensive bilingual training, necessary resources, and micro-lending opportunities.
In August, the Peter Kiewit Foundation awarded the MLCDC grants totaling $70,000 to increase its loan portfolio, support the Micro-lending and Business Assistance Program and provide funding for technology renovations and improvements. “The PKF grants will have an important impact on the Latino/Hispanic community in the greater Omaha area,” Mejia says.
MLCDC provides loans up to $50,000 to Latino-owned businesses. By the end of September, 2018, they expect to provide 18 small Latino-owned businesses with loans totaling $300,000. History suggests that 15 of those businesses will be owned by women, she adds. “The need for micro-lending activities through MLCDC is strong,” Mejia says. The organization expects to assist over 500 individuals, provide over 650 hours of training and 1,200 hours of technical assistance and coaching.
The biggest obstacles faced by Latino businesses are addressed by MLCDC staff through micro-lending opportunities, step by step instruction, coaching and training as well as on-going guidance in starting up or expanding business and continued access to resources.
“Clients receive training assistance about the planning of the business, financial projections, preparation of the marketing plan, and legal structure of the business,” Mejia says. “Participants are able to take ESL and are encouraged to do so.” MLCDC provides instruction on dozens of topics to assist business owners to grow their businesses from computer skills training and managing a website, to accounting procedures, marketing plans, inventory control, and payroll and personnel management to name a few.
MLCDC’s Women Go Forward program empowers women who are seeking opportunities outside of the home. “The program helps isolated women build friendships, engage in the community and improve skills and self-esteem,” Mejia says. Women Go Forward increases opportunities for Latinas through holistic education, workforce and entrepreneurial training, individual business counseling, leadership development, and financial literacy.
“Despite a growing Latino population, there is a very low rate of Latino-owned businesses,” Mejia says. With over 69,000 Latino residents in Douglas and Sarpy Counties, she contends that Latino business ownership is under represented with a low 1.3 percent of Omaha/Council Bluffs firms that are Latino-owned.
“While the great potential exists within the Hispanic/Latino community, and while their diverse cultural backgrounds can add much to Nebraska’s mainstream culture, an inherent threat also exists,” Mejia says. “If a large segment of Nebraska’s population remains undeveloped, unemployed, under-employed, or trapped in poverty, and if their potential remains untapped; Nebraska could face serious challenges to its economy in the near future.” The MLCDC works to eliminate the probability of those challenges.