For more than four decades, the Hispanic population has grown in Kankakee, Illinois – leading to an increasingly diverse entrepreneurial ecosystem. The growth of this population is creating exciting opportunities for the local economy while also posing new challenges in the form of language barriers and a lack of familiarity with local and state business requirements. Through NLC’s Inclusive Entrepreneurship Network, Kankakee is focused on advancing racial equity, creating trust with its new residents, and improving services for Hispanic entrepreneurs.
This past November, the City of Kankakee hosted an open forum for Hispanic business owners. The forum was attended by 31 Hispanic entrepreneurs and residents. Feedback from the meeting identified the following barriers for Hispanic entrepreneurs:
- Communication gaps in information from multiple city departments
- Limited guidance for understanding the state’s registration and licensing processes associated with starting and operating a business.
- Navigating city requirements imposed by the Building & Code Enforcement Department.
How Kankakee Is Doing It
The City of Kankakee committed ARPA funds to hire bilingual employees to build bridges between the city and its entrepreneurs.
Kankakee is also dedicating resources to print and video marketing campaigns in Spanish to inform start up enterprises about local, state, and federal business operations. To help advance this initiative, the city is hosting marketing focus groups with Hispanic-owned business to aid in designing materials for distribution. To further build trust and respect, Kankakee is committed to identifying Hispanic-owned businesses to contract with for the production and design of the marketing materials.
Lessons Learned from Kankakee
- Prioritize customer service: Cities have a responsibility to provide excellent services to their residents and business owners. This means conducting outreach, following up, and making it easy to engage with city departments. Working directly with local officials can build trust and ultimately support the success of entrepreneurs.
- Provide the most beneficial resource: Hispanic entrepreneurs identified language as the number one barrier to working alongside the city. To address this challenge, Kankakee is placing bilingual staff in multiple departments, including the Building and Code Enforcement Department, to help ease language barriers.
- Partnerships must be region-wide: For smaller cities, it is imperative to collaborate with other municipalities in the region to share resources and solutions. Recently, the city of Kankakee has joined together with Peoria to execute cross-departmental training for both cities to learn from each other.