Since 2000, the Latino population in the Eugene/Springfield area has grown 85 percent. The overall Latino population in Oregon is expected to double over the next 25 years. Most Latino immigrants work in agriculture, forestry, construction, and food service; they are often attracted to the region for employment opportunities and to join family who came to the area previously. In 2009 in Lane County, 20 to 24 percent of Latinos families lived at or below the poverty level ($22,350 for a family of four). Despite a willingness to work in low-wage jobs, and partly due to the seasonal nature of a large portion of those jobs (agriculture, forestry), the unemployment rate for Latinos is significantly higher than that of the general population in Lane County. Although the county’s overall unemployment rate for 2009 was 14.0 percent, the unemployment rate for those of Latino origin was nearly seven points higher at 20.7 percent. Without question, there is a need for Latino families to develop new income sources, increase economic opportunities, and be empowered with skills and resources to earn better wages.
Micro-enterprise development assists “micro-entrepreneurs [to] combine their knowledge and determination with microfinance services to attain a decent standard of living and generate income.” For most immigrant and Latino families in Lane County, opportunities to shift from being a low-wage laborer to owner are few and the barriers – language, discrimination, financial literacy, etc. – regardless of how terrific the business opportunity might be, often prove to be out of reach. The economic downturn, a decline in middle class jobs and rising costs of living have led hundreds of people in the United States to start their own businesses. Micro-enterprises with fewer than five employees are responsible for 18 percent of the overall employment in Oregon, undergoing important rapid growth in recent years. A study by Mercy Corps Northwest on the viability of farm and food-based micro-businesses in the Portland metro area found that entrepreneurships help refugees and immigrants build assets. The Association for Enterprise Opportunity reported that after two years after enrolling in a micro-enterprise program, median household income grew by 87 percent. Additionally, 53 percent shifted out of poverty as a result of participating in micro-enterprise programs and starting their own businesses.
Cambios (“Changes”) Micro-development Program
The success of The Small Farmers’ Project, LLC inspired Huerto to create a program that will increase financial stability and food security among Latino families through the creation of farm and food based micro-businesses. Huerto will assist Latinos launch or expand good farm and food business ideas with trainings, connections to community resources, and developing a culture of entrepreneurship. The program will consist of two major modules: training and business counseling.
- Food Booth Program consists of training in operating a food-based business through hands-on experience in cooking in a certified kitchen and selling food products at Huerto’s weekly food booth. Each participant sells from the booth for four consecutive weeks. Each participant is also trained in the business aspects of operating a food based business.
- Business counseling consists of a regular series of intensive one-on-one sessions with each participant and will work to provide guidance and support in editing and launching individual business plans.
- Training has consisted of a series of weekly two-hour class sessions over a 14-week period. Topics covered included, but were not limited to: development of business plans; creating links with markets and sources of capital; study of management skills; methods to produce higher-quality products and services; financial and computer literacy in collaboration with NEDCO and Downtown Languages; and, learning how to operate more efficiently. Our classes our temporarily suspended due to funding.
Shifting the dynamic of Latinos to being leaders of micro-businesses will help them to integrate into the larger Eugene/Springfield community, access new financial opportunities, and help lead our disadvantaged communities to a more equitable and prosperous future. Resources: 1. American Community Survey, January 2011 2. The Larson Northwest Hispanic Market Report, 2001 3. American Community Survey, January 2011 4. Oregon Center for Public Policy, 2011 5. Oregon Labor Market Information System 6. The Microenterprise Promise: Creating Opportunities For Low-Income Individuals In Eugene, Oregon and Adjacent Rural Communities, 2008