Meeting the Unique Needs of New Orleans Hispanic, Latinx Business Owners


  • Tomeka Lee
February 23, 2024 - (5 min read)

From the bustling French Quarter to Mardi Gras to the amazing food scene there is no shortage of great things that come to mind when thinking about New Orleans. However, even with the city’s vibrant culture and businesses community, there have been significant barriers preventing members of its Hispanic/Latinx community from fully engaging in the city’s economic opportunities. Borne out of this need in 2018, Lindsey Navarro, founder and executive director of El Centro, sought to address the lack of diversity and representation in city government agencies, as well as build a bridge to support Hispanic/Latinx entrepreneurs looking to start a business. Prior to opening El Centro, Navarro was employed with a New Orleans-based Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) that offered small business loans. An opportunity from the Mexican Consulate to provide financial literacy and programming focused on supporting the Hispanic/Latinx community, with the caveat that work be led by a nonprofit spawned both an opportunity to support her community and her own nonprofit entrepreneurial journey.

One of the reasons I started the organization was because I was tired of telling people ‘no’ when they were applying for a loan.

Lindsey Navarro, Founder and Executive Director of El Centro

Navarro’s founding of El Centro in New Orleans, with its focus on economic development and unique programming in Spanish, has allowed her to make a positive impact on her community while also attracting interest from larger entities. Through its innovative approach and unique Spanish-language business support offerings, El Centro has carved out a niche for itself in the region, filling a gap in services and creating opportunities for those seeking resources in Spanish.

When connected to NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship Program (CIE) through a relationship with Propeller, a nonprofit that supports economic development in New Orleans, El Centro’s strategic focus during the program year set out to address barriers to occupational licensing that limit entrepreneurship opportunities within the Hispanic/Latinx community. With support from program expert/technical assistance partner Prospera, El Centro identified a common challenge for Hispanic/Latinx entrepreneurs to tackle. In response to the requirement for state-issued identification for the occupational license applications, El Centro has supported their consumer base in acquiring the necessary documentation and advocated with the Occupational Licensing office to change this requirement to another form of identification available to those not born in the United States.

These targeted efforts not only addressed specific needs but also contributed to fostering economic growth and inclusion within the community. By leveraging existing resources and networks from NLC’s CIE Program, they have been able to provide vital support through educational initiatives including the production of an instructional video and one-pager in Spanish. This has empowered entrepreneurs in the Hispanic/Latinx community to navigate the licensing process more effectively.

We ask our customers why they are opening a business, and you’d think that the answer would be financial freedom and flexibility, to control their income, or to support their family. And the most surprising response is that a lot of my customers say they want to create opportunities for others.

Lindsey Navarro, Founder and Executive Director of El Centro

How El Centro Is Doing It

In determining the best way to support local entrepreneurs, El Centro honed their focus on engaging small businesses, building trust, and making connections through some of the following ways:

  • Monthly workshops and personalized financial and entrepreneurial coaching appointments, as well as weekly informational sessions hosted at the Mexican Consulate.
  • Monthly workshops about how to start a business in partnership with the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, Hispanic Champer of Commerce of Louisiana Foundation and GNOR.
  • Eight-week financial wellness accelerator program that educates to understand credit, credit scores, debt management, repayment and savings strategies.
  • Monthly meetup for women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs
  • Six-week accelerator program for established entrepreneurs seeking to grow or scale their construction or janitorial business.
  • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that offers free basic tax return preparation to Spanish speakers and low-income residents.
  • Utilized CIE funds to produce video and one pager focused on securing an occupational license.

Lessons Learned

  • Representation in leadership matters:When local leadership reflects the people, Lindsey notes that positive change will happen naturally. Diversity among leadership and entrepreneurship support is crucial for promoting equity and inclusion. This diversity not only fosters innovation, but also helps to challenge biases and barriers that marginalized groups may face in accessing opportunities for success.
  • Accessibility:New Orleans received the accolade of a Certified Welcoming City in October 2023. By highlighting diversity, cities like New Orleans aim to provide equitable support to address barriers unique to communities from different cultural backgrounds through leadership in city government, and partnership among community organizations like El Centro.
  • Understanding the needs of the community: Navarro emphasizes the necessity for cities to actively engage and support the needs of the Hispanic/Latinx community by going beyond simply hiring bilingual employees. True engagement involves investing in language access services, technology, and ensuring representation in city agencies and entrepreneurship. Collaborating with established organizations trusted by and connected to local Hispanic/Latinx entrepreneurs, like El Centro, can also aid in providing targeted support to this growing demographic. By making these efforts, cities can demonstrate their commitment to inclusivity and diversity.

This blog is part of a series highlighting NLC’s City Inclusive Entrepreneurship (CIE) Network. Cities in the network have committed to implementing new policies, programs and practices that increase economic opportunity for residents through small business ownership and entrepreneurship. In November 2022, Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans, LA committed to lowering barriers for Hispanic/Latinx entrepreneurs at any stage of business and implementing a new program, policy, or practice that facilitates their growth.

About the Author

Tomeka Lee

About the Author

Tomeka Lee is a Program Manager for Economic Development and Entrepreneurship at National League of Cities.