Meet Maria Padilla, the Green Bay area’s new diverse small business manager
María Padilla ayuda a los dueños de negocios, que son minoría en la población –mujeres y veteranos– a encontrar los recursos que necesitan para ser exitosos.
Jeff Bollier, Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY – Small business owners, say hola, nyob zoo, shekoli, see tahay and hello to Maria Padilla. She wants to know how she can help you.
Padilla in August joined the Greater Green Bay Chamber as diverse small business manager. The position was created by the chamber and city of Green Bay as both organizations sought ways to connect the region’s increasingly diverse population with resources and support needed to succeed, according to Kelly Armstrong, the chamber’s vice president of economic development.
A University of Wisconsin-Green Bay graduate who spent four years in the finance industry, Padilla’s new job will be to forge relationships with the region’s minority-, woman- and veteran-owned businesses, connect them with existing resources, and develop support programs to address any gaps or needs they identify.
It’s a need Padilla witnessed firsthand growing up in Appleton, where friends of her family didn’t know where to turn when they needed help with their businesses.
“I’ve seen the struggle that (business owners) can go through just because they don’t know who they can go to for this or that,” Padilla said. “To me, it’s very gratifying knowing that I’m going to be helping not just the Hispanic community, but anyone who might have barriers to resources and programs.”
Armstrong said the partnership is unique in northeast Wisconsin and called it “a collective effort to really help everyone grow.”
“Small businesses are what makes a community. It’s the corner restaurant or the unique bakery. There’s a great current of that happening in the Greater Green Bay area right now,” Armstrong said.
In recent years, Armstrong said the chamber and the city both grappled with how best to provide equitable opportunities, support and resources . The two entities saw an opportunity to team up: The city committed some American Rescue Plan Act dollars to help match chamber dollars to fund Padilla’s position for three years. Armstrong said both groups already want to make the job permanent.
Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said Padilla’s support will help entrepreneurs at a key time in their businesses’ development.
“It’s a difficult endeavor to start a business, especially when you talk about women, veterans and minority business owners,” Genrich said, noting small business owners may not have social networks or access to capital vital for new businesses. “Whatever we could do to break those barriers down, we were interested in doing.”
Right now, Padilla is focused on raising awareness that she’s here to help, and studying recent small business trends. She also wants to be ready to connect business owners with existing help for common things like accounting, permits, and marketing. And if a program doesn’t exist, address the need.
While Padilla’s focus is on existing businesses, she said she’s not going to turn anyone away. Rather, she’ll look to direct people to the appropriate community resources, like the chamber’s Startup Hub or Urban Hub programs.
“Small business is a big part of the community. The fact we’re providing these programs to support them and make sure they succeed long term is going to be important long-term to the community as a whole,” Padilla said.
Northeastern Wisconsin communities line up aid for diverse businesses
Padilla’s focus on diverse small business owners is the latest example of local chambers of commerce increasing investment and connections with small business owners, especially those run by people of color, women and veterans.
The Fox Cities Chamber last month began to offer free memberships to small businesses with five or fewer full-time employees and nonprofits with 10 or fewer full-time employees, and free-standing restaurants. And on Sept. 1, NEWCAP and On Broadway Inc. received Diverse Business Assistance Grants totaling $1.3 million from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to hire staff to proactively engage those business owners, increase access to resources and help them thrive.
Black, Asian, Hispanic and Indigenous residents now make up about 36% of Green Bay’s population and about 20% statewide, but U.S. Small Business Administration data indicates a disproportionate business ownership rate of less than 10% statewide.
Among Wisconsin’s 440,000 small businesses:
- Black people are 6.7% of the population, yet own 3.7% Wisconsin small businesses;
- Hispanic people are 7.1% of the population, but only own 2.6% of small businesses ;
- Asian people are 3% of the population, but own 2.6% of businesses; and
- Indigenous people are 1.2% of the population, but own 0.3% of businesses.
White people make up about 80% of the population, but own about 90.7% of small businesses.
People of color, women and veterans often face barriers to starting a business and may lack access to capital and resources necessary to grow their enterprise. One local example, the chamber’s $10,000 Back to Business Grants offered amid COVID-19’s spread in spring 2020, highlighted the need for a diverse small business manager, Armstrong said
“We didn’t see the number of applications from diverse small businesses we wanted to see,” Armstrong said. “We realized we needed to improve communication channels and connections.”
Equally important, Armstrong said the chamber recognized it needed to meet entrepreneurs of color where they are, at their businesses, rather than offering support and waiting for people to find it.
“We can go out, have conversations with small business owners, understand their struggles, needs and biggest challenges, then connect them to resources and identify any gaps that exist,” Armstrong said. “A big piece of it is having those relationships so people feel comfortable asking for help, raising their hand to say they need help.”
Genrich said Padilla will connect with the city’s economic and community development staff so she knows what assistance the city can offer. But Genrich also said he hopes the city and chamber learn from business owners how the community can better support them.
“I hope there’s a feedback loop created to identify gaps in services, regulatory burdens that could be smoothed out,” Genrich said. “We hope to learn a lot from Maria and the businesses she’s serving.”
That opportunity to build those relationships is exactly what lured Padilla away from the finance industry.
“I liked a lot of the aspects about that (finance) position, a lot of it being relationship-building, being able to provide relationship services that will benefit them in whatever way, shape or form,” Padilla said. “I like this position because it’s actually very similar: It’s all about relationship-building and, something I really enjoy, helping people. There are no limits to what way I can help this group of people.”
Padilla can be reached by phone at 920-496-2119 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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