In the last 25 years, the South has welcomed a large number of Latino immigrants. Between 2000 and 2010, the growth rate of Tennessee’s Latino population was the third fastest in the nation, trailing just behind South Carolina and Alabama. And between 1990 and 2000, the city of Nashville’s Latino population increased by 446 percent.
Unfortunately for many of these Spanish-speaking immigrants, integrating into Nashville’s primarily English-speaking community can be a challenge. But Conexión Américas, a local non-profit organization, helps Latino families build goals toward social and economic advancement by promoting integration in all aspects of life in Middle Tennessee.
One of the ways Conexión Américas assists Spanish-speaking families is by supporting Latino entrepreneurs. Through a program called Negocio Próspero, a 10-week course conducted entirely in Spanish, small business owners are given the opportunity to learn about finance, licensing, marketing and other business practices.
Martha Silva, economic integration director for the organization, says some of the biggest challenges for Latino entrepreneurs occur during the licensure process.
“One of the things people are afraid of, or one of the things that creates a barrier,” she says, “is the communication with city offices, or Davidson County clerks. Formally licensing the business is something they see as very, very hard.”
Negocio Próspero prepares students for these processes, and in some instances, Conexión Américas will even provide assistance at city offices.
According to Silva, there is a difference in the mentality of immigrant entrepreneurs. “In many of the countries from which Latinos come,” she says, “we don’t believe in institutions, we don’t trust the government, we don’t think that organizations are really here to help us, and that is something that we need to change.”
One way Negocio Próspero is helping to reshape this mentality is by inviting local government agents to come speak to the students. “For example, a couple weeks ago, we had a meeting set up with the Department of Agriculture,” Silva recounts. “The director of the department in Nashville came to our office to meet with two ladies who wanted to make some food products that required primary agricultural licensing… They had so many questions that only he could answer. And he was very nice and actually came after work to be with them.”
Silva believes that more opportunities like this will help alleviate the frustration of immigrants trying to navigate the system.
While Negocio Próspero is a great resource for Latino entrepreneurs, Silva says there’s still a need for more in the Nashville community. “Something I have been looking for for a long time is a class that will teach them QuickBooks,” she says, “because many of them are managing their accounting by hand.” She adds that, while she loves mentoring students in the program, demand is increasing. “I would love to have a team of [Spanish-speaking] mentors who could sit with people one-on-one with things like business plan assistance,” she says.
Conexión Americas believes that Negocio Próspero will promote integration of Latino-owned business into the local economy. The majority of the entrepreneurs they serve are creating jobs, paying taxes and contributing significantly to the diversity of Nashville’s economy.
The new session of Negocio Próspero starts in June. For more information, visit the website.