Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Hispanic Business Institute Fills Essential Community Need

Magazine article The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education

Hispanic Business Institute Fills Essential Community Need

Article excerpt

Many talented immigrants dream of owning their own business or finding a job utilizing skills they have brought from their native countries, such as accounting or bookkeeping. However, language barriers and a lack of knowledge about U.S. regulations can be a big barrier to realizing that dream.

But the Hispanic Business and Training Institute, located at Montgomery College just outside Washington, D.C., is a place - and an environment - in which those goals can get a helping hand. Over the last 12 years, thousands of individuals have enrolled at the institute to enhance their entrepreneurial skills or learn technological applications needed to gain employment.

"I'm proud of the fact that we have touched so many peoples' lives, not only in improving their work opportunities, but also mainstreaming them into our society," said Liliana Arango, program director of the institute.

Launched in 1999, the Hispanic Business Institute was established by Montgomery College's Workforce Development and Continuing Education unit, together with the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Its founders were ahead of the curve in understanding that helping minority-owned businesses would be crucial to the county's economic growth. They envisioned the institute as a place for providing Hispanic individuals and small businesses with training and opportunities to create and expand their businesses in the American marketplace.

In the beginning, volunteers from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce taught the institute's courses, but it became apparent that there was a tremendous need in the Hispanic community, and adjunct professors were hired.

"We were a pilot project," said Arango. "But it was so successful that we presented it to college administrators, and they decided to take ownership of it."

As Arango explains, the institute grew as the number of Latino businesses began taking off around the year 2000, when bank and home equity loans were easy to get and use as startup money. Soon there were thousands of Hispanic-owned businesses in Maryland, many of them located in Montgomery County. Hispanics were praised by county officials for their resourcefulness and willingness to take risks. But although many of the new entrepreneurs were immigrants who had owned businesses abroad, they lacked knowledge of U.S. laws and regulations and began to struggle.

"They [business owners] were failing, and we knew that their success was important to the economic development of the area," said Arango.

The business institute quickly became one of the focal points in the community where minority business owners could receive guidance and resources to prepare themselves to better navigate the U.S. business environment. Two years after it opened, the institute received an economic development achievement award from the National Association of Counties, which recognizes innovative and successful county government programs.

Montgomery County continued to reap benefits from the courses, workshops and seminars offered by the institute and its various partners, such as the Maryland Small Business Development Center. By 2007, the Montgomery County Office of Economic Development announced that Hispanic-owned firms in the county generated $1.5 billion in revenue.

The economic collapse of 2008 made it harder to get financing for businesses, but the institute found there was a new need emerging in the community, that of workforce development. So while the institute maintained its original mission, it broadened its focus to emphasize job training.

Today, more than 500 students per semester take courses through the institute. Students can choose from dozens of courses - taught in Spanish - in business entrepreneurship, home improvement licensure, accounting, business software applications, OSHA safety for construction workers, and food safety sanitation. The institute has changed its name to reflect its growth and is now known as the Hispanic Business and Training Institute and Food Safety and Hospitality. …

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