Rhode Island’s Latino Entrepreneurial Spirit and Small Businesses Growing in Numbers

New report from Latino Policy Institute at RWU and Center for Women & Enterprise demonstrates dramatic growth in Latino-owned small businesses and entrepreneurship

Graphic logo of the Latino Policy Institute.
Public Affairs Staff

PROVIDENCE, RI – The number of Latino-owned businesses grew by 280 percent between 1997 and 2012 in Rhode Island, representing the highest growth rate in New England, according to a new study by the Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University.

“Just as immigrant groups before Latinos were critical to Rhode Island’s early economic success, Latinos are an important factor in Rhode Island’s current and future economic well-being,” the report states.

The dramatic growth in Latino-owned businesses occurred despite the impacts of the Great Recession and contrasts with a decrease in the number of non-Latino-owned businesses during that time frame. Specifically, between 2007 and 2012 the number of Latino-owned firms had an increase of 46 percent.

But the report, done in partnership with the Center for Women & Enterprise, showed the growth in Latino-owned businesses has not translated into a sustainable source of income for Latinos, who still have the highest poverty rate among demographic groups in Rhode Island.

“These findings represent a snapshot and a conversation starter for Rhode Island as we try to sustain and grow the Latino entrepreneurial spirit that is all around us,” said Anna Cano Morales, director of Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University. “It appears that there are more entrepreneurs and micro enterprises than we thought and, therefore, the engagement they require is different. Harnessing this fast growing group is key to the state’s economic success.”

The Latino Policy Institute organized focus groups and conducted interviews to gauge the challenges that Latino businesses face. Six emerging themes were identified during the second stage of the study, to include: The process, trust, education, financial resources, marketing and human capacity, and a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

 “The growth and success of Rhode Island’s Latino-owned small businesses is critical to the growth of Rhode Island’s economy as a whole,” Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said. “As Governor, I am committed to making sure our state is a place of opportunity for everyone, where all Rhode Islanders have the skills they need to get good, family-supporting jobs. LPI’s report shows we are making progress but we have much more work to do to get there. I will continue to work with my team to break down barriers to workforce development and to provide support for the growth of Latino-owned enterprises through a range of small business assistance programs. We’re all in this together – when the Latino business community succeeds, our state succeeds.”

 The Latino Policy Institute made a series of recommendations to conclude the report, including:

  • Having a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that could promote a sense of solidarity and disseminate best practices.
  • Establishing a public/private partnership to create a scaled-up micro-lending program or a grants program to help small businesses grow.
  • Ensuring that state and private financial institutions have bilingual and bicultural staff that could provide more effective service to this segment of the business community.

 “Latinos are a growing force in Rhode Island and the United States,” said George Charette, president and CEO of Pawtucket Credit Union and sponsor of the report. “The considerable increase in small businesses and entrepreneurship in the state in the last five years, as shown in this special report, is a reminder that Latinos play a very important role in local job creation and economic development. The information offered in this report will help everyone in both the public and private sectors better understand and meet the needs of Spanish-speaking business owners throughout the state,”

 The report will be released at an event hosted at the Rhode Island State House in the State Room at 3:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 14. More than 50 community leaders, policymakers and elected officials are expected. Governor Raimondo, Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea and representatives from the Greater Providence and Northern Rhode Island Chambers are on the speaking program.

The full report is available on the LPI website at: http://lpi.rwu.edu