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Study shows minority business owners feel welcome in Willmar

Willmar attorney Antonio Tejeda says he has appreciated what Willmar has to offer since he located his office downtown five years ago.

WILLMAR — Minority business owners in Willmar are pleased with the community and its welcoming environment for people starting their own businesses.

A new study from the University of Minnesota Extension Service looks at the views of business owners and offers suggestions for making the business owners feel more welcome. Kandiyohi County had a 260 percent increase in black population and a 43 percent increase in Latino population from 2000 to 2010.

The study was conducted by extension educator Adeel Ahmed working with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, the Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center and West Central Interpreting Services in downtown Willmar.

It grew from an EDC application for a technical assistance grant to help build communication with local businesses about their training needs, said EDC assistant director Jean Spaulding.

They didn’t hear about the application for nearly a year, then were told that Extension wanted to make it a bigger project, she said. It was to include a survey of county businesses to find out how they are using technology. It also included a one-on-one survey of minority businesses, with the help of local Spanish and Somali interpreters.

The surveys were to help provide information about developing minority businesses in rural areas and sharing the information with other communities. “It’s for communities not as far along with cultural businesses,” Spaulding said.

The minority businesses survey shows business owners are happy in Willmar, and it also offered several recommendations for the future.

The study recommends making English as a Second Language classes more accessible. Basic business classes are important, too, and local business organizations can help minority businesses integrate into the community.

The study also found that the minority business owners and their entrepreneurial drive are an increasingly important part of the local economy.

“Personally, I enjoy the fact that one common theme was debt-free,” said Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center Director Roberto Valdez. “It’s a big cultural belief, ‘I don’t want to owe anybody anything.’”

Another finding in the study: “None had anything bad or negative to say about the city of Willmar,” Valdez added.

The resources they need are available and they feel they are treated well, he said. “We’re doing something right,” he said, because many business owners are putting down roots in Willmar.

Many of the business owners own their buildings and own homes in the area, he said. “A lot are creating assets,” he said. “They’re not going anywhere. … They live in the community, they’re building the tax base, they’re here for the long run, and I think they’re adding value to the community.”

Willmar attorney Antonio Tejeda of New London said he has appreciated what Willmar has to offer since he located his office downtown five years ago.

“I seriously do enjoy the downtown,” he said. Overhead is low, and things are convenient, he added. He has another office in downtown Minneapolis, but the traffic is “horrible.”

Tejeda, a native of Puerto Rico, said he believes he is the only Latino attorney in Minnesota who practices worker’s compensation law.

More and more, the general community is coming to the ethnic stores in downtown Willmar, too, Valdez said.

Some businesses are considering expanding. The Willmar Area Multicultural Business Center helps them learn to use more traditional accounting methods and improve their grasp of how their businesses are growing. “There’s really a need for an agency like ours,” Valdez said.

Many of the business owners don’t have formal business training, and they may be doing their business in cash, Spaulding said, and moving to a more formal accounting system can help them build relationships with banks and other businesses.

The minority business owners are “building assets from nothing,” Valdez said, and many are more comfortable working with cash at first.

It will take time for a business to move toward a more formal method of operations, he said.

“Owning a business and running a business is not an easy thing.”

Valdez and Spaulding said they believe Willmar has the greatest concentration of ethnic businesses in rural Minnesota. “Other areas are in the early stages,” Spaulding said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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