Minority Entrepreneurs Make Major Impact on U.S. Economy

Minority entrepreneurs help fuel our economy.

Zions Bank Oct 23, 2017

Before Jorge Fierro became a successful entrepreneur; before he developed a multi-million-dollar food distribution company; and before he crafted an art-filled upscale restaurant, he was a Mexican immigrant with no capital and no credit to his name. He scraped by taking whatever work he could get: digging holes, washing dishes, and doing odd jobs.

One day, dissatisfied with the quality of beans available at the grocery store, Fierro decided to make the fresh, authentic beans he missed so much from Mexico. Using his mother’s recipe, he began selling pinto beans at Salt Lake City’s Downtown Farmers Market and from there, Rico Brand — and eventually Frida Bistro — was born. Today, the company’s fresh, flavorful fare — which includes beans, salsas, guacamole, tortillas, burritos, tamales and enchiladas — is found in supermarkets, coffee shops and restaurants across the Intermountain West.

Fierro has come to embody the American Dream. But his story is much more than a rags-to-riches tale. It’s a story of enriching the broader community economically, culturally and philanthropically.

National Minority Enterprise Development Week, October 22-28, recognizes the contributions of entrepreneurs, like Fierro, who invigorate our communities and drive economic growth.

Minority Entrepreneurs Fuel Economy

Across the U.S., minority-owned companies generate more than $400 billion in annual revenue and employ more than 2.2 million workers, according to the National Minority Supplier Development Council. Additionally, minority-owned businesses contribute nearly $49 billion in local, state and federal tax revenues.

Since the Great Recession, minority entrepreneurs have been key drivers of economic growth, adding 1.3 million jobs to the economy between 2007 and 2012, according to a report by the Center for Global Policy Solutions.  And in Utah and Idaho specifically, minority-owned businesses grew by more than 50 percent during the 2007-2012 period, far outpacing the growth of nonminority-owned businesses.

Beyond their economic value, diverse businesses elevate ideas and enhance the cultural landscape, according to James Jackson III, founder and executive director of the Utah African-American Chamber of Commerce.

“From a minority-owned business, you can learn new perspectives of the world, which could bring a new level of thinking, innovation, and even raise competition, which is a benefit for everyone,” said Jackson, who is an assistant vice president and loan officer at Zions Bank in Salt Lake City.

Take an ethnic restaurant, for example. Short of a trip across the world, it is often the best place to learn about another country or ethnicity, he said.

“There are many little markets in (Salt Lake City’s) Glendale and West Valley area owned by Africans, and you can see what they put in their households,” Jackson said.

Paying It Forward

At Rico Brand and Frida Bistro, one can experience the distinctive flavors and vibrant colors of Fierro’s childhood in Delicias, Chihuahua, Mexico, where he worked in his parents’ small grocery store and dreamed of settling in the U.S. Time spent between those two realities — which included bouts of homelessness and hunger — informs the company’s culture of giving.

Monday through Thursday, Rico Brand opens its kitchen to volunteers who roll between 350 and 500 bean-and-rice burritos. Green-shirted volunteers on bicycles deliver the burritos to homeless people around Salt Lake City.

When Fierro first came to Utah, he briefly lived at the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake, where he was struck by the number of homeless veterans who had given and sacrificed so much. “Pay it forward,” became his mantra.

“I do as much as I can,” said Fierro, who is also involved in various community and nonprofit groups. “Wealth is not to be kept. It is to make the community richer and to create opportunities.”

Financial Literacy Critical

For Fierro, opportunity came in 1997 when the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund agreed to lend him the then-maximum $10,000 loan amount to expand on his success at the Farmers Market. It took four years to patiently build the credit and trust necessary to receive another loan. Now Rico Brand easily sells as much as that initial loan amount in one day.

When Jackson first became a business banker, he noticed that many entrepreneurs struggle with financial literacy and knowing how to start a business.

“That’s what motivated me to start the chamber,” Jackson said.  “My primary mission was to discover and display all the resources Utah has to offer those wanting to start their own business.”

In Utah, organizations such like the UAACCUtah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce,  Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce provide information-sharing and networking opportunities for minority entrepreneurs. The Suazo Center in downtown Salt Lake City offers weekly businesses classes and one-on-one business advising.

Additionally, the Small Business Administration has a host of training programs, technical resources and SBA-backed loans for all types of entrepreneurs. Zions Bank’s Business Resource Centers in Utah and Idaho offer free counseling and resources for new or existing business owners.

“Utah is becoming more of a migrant state,” Jackson said. “We have people coming in from all over the country and the world.  We have so much to offer here for entrepreneurs, and people are starting to figure it out. And with the advancement of technology and access to information and goods, I believe we will see those ‘million dollar ideas’ come more frequently, many of them from minorities and women.”

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