Dubuque economic development officials engage minority-owned businesses

Wes and Secless Rainer with their children Caleb and Wes, 11, at Hot Diggity Dogz in Dubuque last month. PHOTO CREDIT: NICKI KOHL

Minorities who own businesses spoke out about some of the challenges that they face while participating in a recent meeting held by Dubuque economic development officials.

During the virtual meeting, business owners shared the difficulties they have encountered when trying to utilize local business services or secure financial support for initiatives.

Jill Connors, economic development director for Dubuque, said she organized the meeting in order to see what she and other economic development organizations could do to spur the development of minority-owned businesses in the community.

Early in the meeting, Connors shared with attendees many of the services available to business owners to help them manage their companies. Wesley Rainer, owner of Hot Diggity Dogz, said many minority business owners aren’t aware that these services even exist.

“The first thing we need is information,” Rainer said. “We need to know who the right people are to talk to when we are trying to do something.”

Rainer’s business sells a variety of hot dogs, Italian beef, Polish sausage and other sandwiches. It currently operates out of a food trailer at 1902 Central Ave.

Rainer said he believes it’s important for the community to encourage the creation of more minority-owned businesses as Dubuque continues to become less racially and ethnically homogeneous. He said part of his goal as a business owner is to pave the way to make it easier for future generations to start their own endeavors.

“I want a lot of Black people to take advantage of the times,” Rainer said. “I’m trying to get us all to have an identity in the community.”

Alanda Gregory, owner of Tri-Phoenix Media, which focuses on web page management and press kit development, said that she has experienced issues in communicating with economic development agencies, both because of general uncertainty of who to talk to and, at times, because of linguistic cultural differences.

“We have different types of languages, so people don’t know what you are saying,” Gregory said. “We don’t know these people, and they don’t know us. If we talk to them, they may not take us seriously.”

Gregory and Rainer said they have both experienced difficulties in working with local organizations, primarily when trying to secure funding with financial institutions.

Rick Dickinson, president and CEO of Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said he wasn’t surprised to hear of minority-owned businesses struggling to access community resources.

“Our resources are spread out like a dog’s breakfast,” Dickinson said. “We have a treasure trove of support out there, but it’s certainly not a one-stop shop.”

Gregory said she feels minority business owners would benefit from having a liaison that can help properly direct them to the right organizations, along with introducing them to the right people.

“We just need business mentors,” Gregory said. “We don’t have access to all these resources, so it would be good to have someone who could help bridge that gap.”

As a new business owner, Rainer said he would also have benefited from having assistance with financial management for learning how to better handle things like payroll taxes and accounting.

Connors said she intends to compile a list of resources that will be deliverable to minority-owned businesses as a means of better educating them on what organizations in the community can help.

She added that she wants to continue to hold meetings where minority-owned businesses can communicate with each other on the challenges they are facing.

“Business owners have a lot of choices, and they need to know what they are,” Connors said. “We want to make sure they know what’s available to them.”