Local economic group to host outreach event for Spanish-speaking residents

GALENA, Ill. — An economic development group serving northwest Illinois soon will host an event geared toward the Spanish-speaking business community.

Northwest Illinois Economic Development announced a Spanish-Language Small Business outreach event will take place from 8 to 11 a.m. Dec. 7 at Desoto House Hotel, 230 S. Main St. in Galena.

David Schmit, program coordinator for Northwest Illinois Economic Development Group, believes the gathering will present an opportunity to connect with an underserved demographic from Carroll and Jo Daviess counties.

“A goal of ours is to better serve communities that maybe have been overlooked in the past, in terms of outreach” he said. “We wanted to do something that helped address those gaps.”

Executive Director Emily Legel said Spanish-speaking businesses already have made a noticeable imprint on the northwest Illinois economy. She emphasized that the entrepreneurial interest in this segment of the population is strong.

“Immigrants are more likely than any other population to start and run a successful business,” she said.

Despite already having a noteworthy impact on the local business community, Schmit believes that Spanish-speaking residents continue to face barriers that others do not.

This became evident in recent years when this population struggled to obtain emergency COVID-19 funding at the same rate as other demographics, Schmit said. He emphasized that language is widely believed to be the root cause of many hurdles facing current or aspiring Spanish-speaking business owners.

Local economic development officials already have put plans into motion to address these gaps, including recent efforts to translate informational and marketing information into Spanish so such materials are accessible to those who don’t speak English as a primary language.

The upcoming event represents another step in that direction, Schmit said. And while the organization isn’t the first to support such an initiative, he said outreach efforts generally have been lacking in rural communities with smaller populations.

“It is a trend that other economic development groups are looking into, but not necessarily smaller economic development groups,” he said. “In the rural communities, you don’t see this happening, and we want to change that.”

Dupaco Community Credit Union will provide two bilingual employees who can work with the Spanish-speaking attendees and help address any of their questions.

“Starting their own business is one way people can create their own economic opportunity,” said Dupaco communications specialist Emily Kress. “It seemed like a natural fit to partner with this group and offer these services.”

Schmit said the event marks the first of multiple outreach efforts that will be targeted toward specific populations in the upcoming year. He said the group hopes to hold similar events for local veterans and the LGBTQ population.