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WASHINGTON, D.C. —Even though Latino-owned businesses are a fast-growing sector of the U.S. economy — contributing more than $700 billion annually — ongoing obstacles include access to capital and reliable lenders.
Latino business owners and entrepreneurs who gathered in the nation's capital for a business legislative summit sought answers on those issues as well as reassurances that trade at the U.S.-Mexico border will continue.
"Top of mind for me is keeping the border open," said Lea Márquez Peterson, owner of a public affairs firm and past president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Arizona.
"Trade and tourism drives the Arizona economy; we have more than 110,000 jobs that rely on trade with Mexico," she said. "So I want our legislators to have a full understanding on the importance of trade.”
Márquez Peterson, a former Republican congressional candidate who lives an hour from the border, was among a number of Latino entrepreneurs at the nation’s capital for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 2019 Legislative Summit.
At the summit on Wednesday, the Latina business owner said she was heartened to hear firsthand from legislators on both sides of the political aisle against a border closure. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was giving Mexico "a one year warning" to deter migrants on their borders.
"They're having conversations about it on the Hill and it’s important for us to be here to ensure that they hear from our border states,” she said.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) told the Hispanic business owners that closing the border “would be a terrible mistake;” comments that were met by loud applause.
Numerous studies have found that small businesses are struggling to find funding from traditional lenders and many are going to online lending, which may not always been transparent and secure.
An annual study of Latino businesses by the Stanford University Graduate School of Business finds that a greater number of Hispanic-owned businesses take on more personal financial risk compared to businesses owned by white, Asian Americans, and African Americans, and that a lower percentage of these Hispanic firms are able to secure bank loans from traditional sources compared to other groups.
This is exacerbated, says Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), chair of the House Small Business Committee, by a White House budget proposal that seeks deep cuts in several key programs including loans and technical assistance and a slashing of the budget for the agency that oversees minority business development. The 2020 budget proposal also seeks to increase fees for some programs that assist small businesses.
Velázquez said she would hold the administration’s feet to the fire on ensuring that Latino small businesses are not adversely affected by budget cuts.
“I’ll be the one in charge of setting up a legislative agenda in the Small Business Committee and an important part of that agenda is how we can provide tools for Latino (and other minority) businesses," she told NBC News. "The fact of the matter is that our economy is changing, that the face of the business sector is changing; so what we want is to provide a level playing field for our businesses to be able to succeed and grow.”
Luis Alberto Vásquez, who came to Washington, D.C. from Long Island, N.Y., said the most important thing for Latino business owners was to get involved.
“We need to be here to learn about the resources and to how to find them and help those small business owners who aren’t able to be here because they don’t have the time or the resources," said Vásquez. "We come here as one voice to show and send a message to the White House and to Congress that we are here and that we’re paying attention to what they’re doing.”