Cory Arcarese is director of the Mi Casa Resource Center and the Southern Colorado Women’s Business Center. Mi Casa’s overarching goal is to increase the employability, education, knowledge and life skills of Latino families.
Tell us about the Mi Casa Resource Center. How long has it been around? What’s its mission?
Mi Casa’s mission is to advance the economic success of Latino families. Mi Casa was founded in 1976 by eight Head Start mothers in west Denver who understood that education and employment were vital for women to become successful both personally and economically. Mi Casa was established to create new opportunities for women to increase their education and learn new skills in order to provide a better life for their children. Since the 1980s Mi Casa has offered small business development services entrepreneurs in Denver; and in 2000, Mi Casa secured funding from the U.S. Small Business Administration to open and operate a Women’s Business Center in Pueblo to serve the aspiring entrepreneurs and established small business owners of Pueblo and El Paso counties. Mi Casa recognizes that self-employment is a viable means of achieving economic success for residents of disadvantaged communities and for the economic vibrancy of the communities themselves.
What type of hurdles do Latina women face when starting a business? What opportunities?
It bears mentioning that there is tremendous diversity within the Hispanic communities, and it can be difficult to generalize about obstacles, considering that some Latina business owners face the challenge of a language barrier and cultural norms that expect them to be at home caring for their family rather than out earning money. However, Latinas whose families have been in Colorado for generations face different challenges, probably similar to those of other small business owners — tight market for capital, limited customer base, fierce competition. Navigating the paperwork and understanding the regulations of business ownership, however, is challenging for everyone. Between registering the business, having the proper licenses and insurance, understanding the legal issues and staying on top of daily operations and business development, it can be a daunting and consuming project. Additionally, Latina business owners and others who have low to moderate levels of income can experience challenges in drumming up business if they are not able to afford chamber memberships or other opportunities where networking takes place, leads are found, and deals are made. It’s also relevant to note that in many business arenas — construction trades, energy, government contracting — it’s still very much a man’s world, and women face serious challenges in breaking through the established relationships and sexual discrimination to be successful in these fields.
The latest census numbers show the Hispanics segment of the community is the fastest growing. Do you believe the small business resources available for Hispanic entrepreneurs is growing at the same pace?
No. Demand for business services like those offered by Mi Casa is growing exponentially and not only because of the rapidly growing Latino population. There are great opportunities for Hispanic business owners to succeed because of the growing population and also because so many established companies are looking to gain expertise and assistance in reaching and expanding within the Hispanic market. Mi Casa serves all of these segments by offering entrepreneurial training, individual business consulting, and by facilitating connections between business owners, lenders, service providers and potential clients. Mi Casa assists new start ups to launch and grow operations; mid-size businesses to solve problems and move to the next level; as well as established companies seeking to partner with minority- and woman-owned businesses.
What new programs or direction do you hope to provide for Mi Casa?
We have a solid reputation of contributing to local economies by providing businesses services that fuel job creation, new business start ups and community partnerships. We will continue to offer seminars for the business-curious, entrepreneurial training for the business-serious, individual counseling, and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs and small business owners in Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Mi Casa will also strive to provide expanded services that will meld government initiatives with local opportunities. For example, exporting has become a major topic for the U.S. Small Business Administration. Our goal is to provide education and knowledge on how this can be a potential growth area for business. Mi Casa would also like to expand its business development services to points farther south in Colorado to allow entrepreneurs and business owners in smaller, rural communities the opportunity to achieve financial success through self-employment.