By Aaron Weinberg Skagit Valley Herald, Mount Vernon, Wash.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Latino Business Expansion and Retention Program (EDASC) was created in 2004 to provide assistance to Latino entrepreneurs and business owners in Skagit County, Washington. Alma Garibay, owner of "Sunsational Hair and More" is an example of one entrepreneur who participated in the program and is now thriving thanks to the support.
Starting a business has its challenges, said Sunsational Hair and More owner Alma Garibay, and it can be even more difficult when you're from a different country.
"Besides the language barrier of course, it's also hard not knowing the structure on how to follow regulations in the U.S.," she said.
Since opening her hair salon in Mount Vernon in 2009, Garibay has taken advantage of a free Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County program that assists Latino business owners.
The Latino Business Expansion and Retention Program was created in 2004 to provide assistance to Latino entrepreneurs and business owners like Garibay, said program lead Diana Morelli.
Since 2004, Morelli has helped secure $3 million in loans for Latino clients. She also helps clients with business and marketing plans, financing, human resources and more.
Morelli said one of the most important parts of her job is gaining the trust of Latino community members.
"Trust is so important to establish," she said. "Once you get that trust, I've had clients open up about tax problems and immigration problems. These are problems they don't want to admit."
Garibay credits the program for helping her secure a $12,000 loan that took her business to the next level.
"There were a lot of little things that I needed, but I didn't have the money to invest," she said.
Since the program was established, Morelli said she's seen many Latino leaders rise in the business community, a big accomplishment considering where the program started.
"I didn't have any contacts at all and frankly wasn't sure what I should be doing," she said of the program. "You do the jobs that work and make you effective. Now we have Latino leaders ... that are really helping the community."
She said one of those leaders is Ricardo Sanchez, who now owns Sanchez R.A. and Associates, a business advisory company in Bellingham.
He first came to Morelli 12 years ago to get a loan for a Mexican market he owned in Bellingham because he said EDASC's program was the only one of its kind in the area.
"Now I find ways to helps people overcome obstacles," he said. "Sometimes I refer them to (Morelli) or to other people that are in the same business."
EDASC Executive Director John Sternlicht said the program fits into the organization's goal of creating equal opportunities for success.
"It develops a larger part of the community to play a meaningful role in economic growth," he said. "It's hard when people are coming to the area without family connections. It's an added hurdle. The more people integrated into the community, the more it prospers."
Garibay has made her mark on the business community -- she now runs two hair salons and was given a Rising SWAN award at the 2015 Skagit Women's Alliance Network annual awards banquet.
"There's so much help out there and it's free and they are always so nice," she said of the program.