CIE Spotlight: Promoting Hispanic Entrepreneurship in Belvidere & Boone County, IL

Key Highlights: Belvidere and Boone County, IL are supporting Hispanic entrepreneurs by rethinking economic development practices and prioritizing access to capital from historically excluded populations through NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) program.

Like many U.S. cities with growing Hispanic populations, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the city of Belvidere and Boone County, IL has rapidly increased over the last 20 years. Despite the growth and productivity of this demographic (Hispanic entrepreneurs currently form new businesses at twice the national rate), Latino entrepreneurs continue to face outsized barriers to accessing capital, navigating regulations and growing businesses.

By making a commitment to support Hispanic entrepreneurs through NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) program, Belvidere and Boone County are addressing this challenge head-on by rethinking their economic development practices and prioritizing access to capital for entrepreneurs from historically excluded populations. The region’s leaders found there were few resources and technical assistance programs in Spanish available for Hispanic businesses. Leaders also noted that trust between the city and small businesses needed to be addressed through open and honest dialogue. They needed to increase the comfort level of small business owners coming to do business in city hall, strengthen relationships between businesses and city departments and provide opportunities to have entrepreneurs’ questions answered in Spanish. Leaders in the region recognized the imperative to understand the diverse cultures of their small business ecosystem and find strategic and innovative ways to connect with them – with the goal of ultimately improving the quality of life in the area for everyone.

How Belvidere & Boone County Are Doing It

Growth Dimensions, an organization serving Boone County and Belvidere, is committed to advancing a coordinated economic development strategy to create jobs, promote community assets and stimulate capital investment through local, national and global business retention and attraction efforts. Working alongside city and county governments, non-profits, community leaders and business support organizations, the organization is increasing its focus on Hispanic entrepreneurs and identifying their most critical priorities and challenges. After holding a series of roundtable discussions with Hispanic entrepreneurs across the region, Growth Dimensions’ multi-sector advisory committee identified some of the most pressing issues entrepreneurs face:

  • Expanding the customer base of Hispanic-owned businesses
  • Increasing access to capital and financial planning
  • Expanding applications and acceptance of grants and loans
  • Helping businesses reach scale and become ready to apply for government contracts
  • Identifying venues to network with expert business leaders

Because Boone County is a small area with limited resources, Growth Dimensions and Belvidere Mayor Clinton Morris chose to partner with a wide array of organizations from across the region to assist and guide Hispanic-owned small businesses in each focus area. As a result, they implemented several new practices, including:

  • The Workforce Connection in Illinois, a partner of the American Job Center Network,  will hire two part-time, bilingual navigators to assist with translations, review processes and outreach and write materials in Spanish as necessary.
  • The Rockford Regional Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and Health Department will deliver business education using video/visual aids and facilitation.
  • Kauffman FastTrac, an entrepreneurial training curriculum, will train Hispanic Advisors to deliver the Fastrac entrepreneurship curriculum in English and Spanish. At least one session will be scheduled and delivered when the Spanish version of the FastTracprogram is available in the third quarter of 2022.
  • An advisory committee that represents Hispanic-owned business leaders, education advocates and government officials in the region was formed to provide input and guide decision-making.
  • The Illinois Department of Commerce, the Office of Minority Economic Empowerment and the Small Business Development Center will continue to provide regional resources to small enterprises.

The city of Belvidere and Boone County are also participating in two other NLC CIE commitment tracks focused on building a small business ecosystem map with SourceLink and creating a bilingual entrepreneurship program with Kauffman FastTrac.

Lessons Learned in Belvidere & Boone County

Regional partnerships are essential. For Belvidere and Boone County, many resources for small businesses were only available outside of the immediate community. By building relationships across Illinois, it has been possible to bring in outside resources so that small business owners, who are often extremely busy, can more easily access them.

Customize technical assistance offerings to reflect business owners’ needs. Growth Dimensions and its partners have created a customized program for real estate entrepreneurs, a growing sector in the region. The programs are online, in person or self-paced to meet entrepreneurs where they already are.

Be intentional with advisory committees. It is imperative that cities create a shared vision and alignment among stakeholders when developing new policies and programs. Advisory committees should be flexible, representative of the community and possess enough bandwidth to see the project through to the end.

About the Author

Lauren Boswell

About the Author

Lauren Boswell is a Program Manager with the City Inclusive Entrepreneurship network in NLC’s Center for City Solutions.