Fifteen or 20 years ago, the woman had left Central America and come to the U.S., and eventually found her way to Greektown’s Newkirk St.
Like many immigrants, she couldn’t pick and choose the jobs she got, but she worked hard at whatever she could find.
“She was doing all sorts of jobs, from construction to cleaning,” says Carlos Arango, a lending officer for the Latino Economic Development Center, a housing assistance and small-business development organization that has recently set up a presence in Highlandtown.
“She saved money–as much as she could–and last year she saw an opportunity to buy the store on her street,” Arango continues. “It was a little convenience store she went to, and she bought it.”
The woman’s hard work and sacrifice had paid off–to a point. She had bought the store, but couldn’t afford to stock it and get the business up and running.
At that point, she obtained an $8,000 loan from the Latino Economic Development Center, allowing her to realize her dream of owning her own business in America.
“These kinds of businesses are a perfect fit for the LEDC,” Arango says. “She would be a worker for the rest of her life, but now she has an opportunity to work hard and make it.”
“My gut tells me she’s doing very well right now,” he adds. “That’s the whole point we exist.”
The LEDC, which was founded in Washington, D.C., and has an office in Wheaton, Md., officially opened a satellite office in Highlandtown on Feb. 1 of this year. The counseling and lending provider is working out of the Southeast Community Development Corporation headquarters, 3323 Eastern Ave.
Arango stresses that despite the name, LEDC services are available beyond the Latino community.
“The bottom line for us is not race or ethnicity,” says Arango. “It’s the business owner without access to traditional banks.”
He explains that larger banks are, first of all, often averse to the risk of lending to small businesses, and, secondly, prefer to focus their energies on larger clients with potential for larger returns. Through federal regulations and grant monies, however, micro-lenders such as the LEDC exist solely to lend a hand-up to small businesses.
The LEDC was brought into Baltimore through a $40,000 grant secured by Catalina Rodriguez of the Baltimore City Hispanic Commission. Arango says that the move was in accordance with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s goal of bringing 10,000 new families into Baltimore over the next decade.
“They wanted to make Baltimore small-business friendlier, and open the city to new residents,” says Arango.
The $40,000 grant was good money for covering initial administrative costs, but not necessarily enough for securing office space.
“That’s why Catalina secured this office space [within the Southeast CDC] for us for free,” Arango says.
With the space comes access to the Southeast CDC’s network, which can be put to good use by the LEDC, he adds.
“We are bringing over 13 years of experience in micro-finance lending to small business owners,” Arango says.
“Out of all of the organizations within Baltimore, we felt the Southeast CDC was the best fit for us because we both have the same values,” says Arango.
He adds that the Greater Highlandtown area is also a great fit for the LEDC.
“We like the area, and we see potential, mostly because small businesses are everywhere along this Eastern Avenue,” Arango says.
by Erik Zygmont