To learn how to better support thriving local businesses in rural communities, the Kansas Leadership Center (KLC) launched a two-week listening tour in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. It’s the opening phase of ‘Heartland Together,’ a partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation (EMKF) to generate leadership for rural entrepreneurship in these four Midwestern states. KLC teacher Claudia Amaro facilitated sessions for non-English speakers in Kansas, check out her reflections below. The Spanish version of this blog is available here.
Every corner in Kansas has an emerging Latino community. Some feel more invisible than others.
First on our itinerary, Brianna and I visited Coffeyville, a city of almost 9,000 in Montgomery County near the border between Kansas and Oklahoma. According to census data, the Hispanic population is 13.5%. We met with a group of Latino women who were eager to attend Spanish speaking events in their area. They shared different challenges they face as consumers and how those challenges inspired them to think about starting their own businesses.
One participant, a business owner, was concerned about the lack of support and trust from the community. She believes consumers in her area trust bigger and more established businesses over small, local owned businesses. This group was concerned about the lack of education, training, and coaching in Spanish. “What licenses and permits do we need?” one attendant asked. Communication was also part of the conversation. Their first language is Spanish and, although they can manage a conversation in English, they wish there was more information available in Spanish.
I invited them to dream big: what are their aspirations for their families and for their communities? Two things arose. They want trainings available in Spanish – on budgeting, loans, marketing and business plans, among other things. There was also a sentiment of mistrust from financial institutions: no small barrier. They expressed a desire for low interest, flexible term loans to start or grow a business, which many of them have been unable to find.
Our second stop was Liberal, the county seat of Seward County with a population of 19,825 2020 Census). According to census data, 62% of the population is Latino, but according to the group of community leaders with whom Brianna, Alejandro, and I met, the Latino population is even higher. Many of this group’s concerns were similar to those discussed in Coffeyville, but with more bilingual people in the community, some went a little deeper; they mentioned that the problem is not merely communication, but the lack of proper communication from the top down. According to them, information tends to be delayed to the point that it is outdated and unusable.
As with many other cities in the state, they are struggling with talent retention; many young Latinos leave the city to attend university and simply never come back, leaving them with no capable, Spanish speaking professionals to help new business owners (bankers, developers, eco devo experts, etc.)
Another concern was that Spanish speaking business owners tend not to participate and/or are not invited into conversations regarding economic development or business ownership.
Closing the Gap
What makes it difficult to close the gap? Both groups shared similar answers. The lack of spaces that bring people with diverse backgrounds together to speak and listen to each other. Different languages and different time availabilities. Trainings that speak to different people and lack of marketing material that uses inviting languages, brighter colors, and sounds through different channels to reach specific communities.
The Latino community in Kansas is already diverse: people come from different countries, with different language proficiencies, educational backgrounds, and immigration statuses. The conversations during this listening tour showcased that diversity and highlighted that, although Spanish speaking entrepreneurs face the same challenges as their Anglo-counterparts, they have additional adaptive barriers that continually restrict them from their community and disrupt progress.