• 30°

Immigrant community gets economic boost

Legal, economic and advocacy groups have joined together to provide Latino and other minority immigrants a step up in establishing new businesses in the Austin area through the Austin Area Minority Business Project.

The partnership will also provide similar services in Albert Lea, Owatonna and other smaller communities in the I-35 and I-90 corridors, as project funding and enrollment allow.

Joining together on the project are the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) and Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER), all non-profit organizations. Also joining the group are volunteer attorneys from the law firm of Lindquist & Vennum LLP.

Sara Karki, a staff attorney with the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, will work fulltime in the local office. The office is shared with the Latino Economic Development Center at 329 N. Main St.

Funding comes through a $165,000 grant from the Legal Services Advisory Committee (LSAC) to promote community economic redevelopment, said John Keller, executive director of the law center.

The genesis of the local project came after other partnerships were established in Worthington and Moorhead. Keller added all the organizations have worked together in some fashion “and we all know each other, have had collaborations.” Success of the grant allowed the group to look to another part of the state.

“We wanted to establish something in the southeastern part of the state — and the numbers are certainly there,” Keller said.

Austin’s percentage of Latinos has more than doubled between 2000 and 2010. In Austin, 10.3 percent of the population is foreign-born, which is more than 40 percent higher than the Minnesota average; 17.3 percent of the population speaks a language other than English at home — more than 60 percent higher than the Minnesota average, according to the law center.

These numbers are important since Mexican immigrants have the highest rate of business origination out of any group in the United States, according to the law center. Studies show that small-scale, locally-owned businesses create communities that are connected, prosperous, and healthy. The center said local, dispersed business ownership supports equity and strengthens the middle class.

Immigrant business owners and employees often face significant legal barriers to success. Immigrants’ unfamiliarity with American regulations and business networks are hurdles; preventing and resolving legal issues are critical to opening and sustaining a business. The project is designed to help new business owners around these obstacles.

Obtaining or improving one’s immigration status can be resolved through legal assistance. Lack of access to licensed attorneys leaves families vulnerable to fraud or risk of removal. Immigrant families that are supported in securing or improving the legal status of even one family member, are able to more fully engage with and contribute to rural communities.

Partnership services include: Improving or acquiring legal immigration status and citizenship through naturalization for individuals and families; providing community and economic development through immigrant business training and support; and assistance with employment law, real estate law, leveraging household equity and assistance with small business legal issues, such as incorporation, business mergers and loans, contracts, taxes, wages and benefits issues, and vendor agreements.

Those interested can learn more by contacting The Austin Area Minority Business Project at 507-460-8948.