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Fresno, CA opens new digital hub for business

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(TNS) — Fresno’s “hard-to-reach” business owners will soon have direct access to streamlined, language-friendly, online business support from the city of Fresno.

The new resource comes from a partnership between the City of Fresno and Bitwise Industries and a $70,000 grant from the Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative, a project sponsored by the National Federation of Cities with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The city and Fresno-based technology company Bitwise Industries have teamed up to create a digital business hub, a “one-stop shop” with information on how to start and operate a business, including business licenses and related permits. develop. Grants; Fundraising Opportunities; Business Creation Programs and Support.

Resources are available in Spanish, Punjabi, Hmong, English and are ADA compliant.

Fresno has the fifth-highest percentage of minority-owned startups in the nation among mid-sized large cities and is recognized as a top 10 city for entrepreneurs of color, according to Deputy Mayor Matthew Grundy. .

“But there is a constant struggle to reach these minority business owners and provide access to much-needed business resources and tools,” he said.

Targeted businesses for small business owners who are difficult to access for the City, such as minority-owned businesses, entrepreneurs in underserved neighborhoods, and entrepreneurs operating in Opportunity Zones or Community Development Block Grant Project Areas It’s about improving access to information.

Minority-owned businesses have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, Grundy said.

“For this reason, Mayor (Jerry) Dyer has decided to put inclusion at the forefront of the city’s economic development efforts, exploring ways to identify and mitigate barriers,” he said.

Prior to the $70,000 grant, the National League of Cities had invested as much as $25,000 in projects for small business outreach efforts.

Building relationships of trust with business owners who do not speak English

The idea of ​​building a one-stop shop was developed after the city and Bitwise held a focus group with about 30-40 minority business owners who speak Hmong, Spanish and Punjabi.

“We learned that many minority businesses face challenges such as lack of government trust, communication and language barriers,” says Grundy.

He also found that focus groups face literacy issues, lack of technical support, and a general lack of knowledge about the requirements to start and run a business. said he did.

Zane Kingdry, account manager at Bitwise Industries, said in an interview with The Sept. 7 that these small business owners seek business guidance from peers such as aunts and uncles rather than from official sources. and family networks. bee.

“The big thing we noticed with the non-English speaking business owners was that they just didn’t know the city and had no formal or informal relationship at all,” he said. .

According to a service agreement between the City of Fresno and Bitwise Industries, the initiative’s primary objective is to “address economic mobility and racial equality.”

But more than that, the project’s “tangible” goals include diversifying the local economy and building a stronger tax base, ensuring that the project builds trust and engagement between the city of Fresno and its small towns. King-Dollie said he hopes to deepen their bond. business community.

“When companies feel supported and can get the resources they need, they can step out of the shadows and operate more formally,” he said.

Bitwise estimates that a digital business hub prototype will be ready for testing with current business owners by the end of the year. A fully functional business hub is expected to go live in the first half of 2023.

Fresno immigration business owners often feel ‘intimidated’

Clarissa Vivian Petrucci, Special Projects Coordinator for the Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative (CVIIC), works with Spanish-speaking immigrant entrepreneurs throughout the Central Valley.

Through his work, Petrucci trains immigrants on how to start and grow small businesses and provides support in everything from business plan creation to marketing to seed funding.

In an interview with The Bee on Tuesday, Petrucci said the new digital hub will help CVIIC connect more immigrant-run businesses—from food trucks to in-home childcare to e-commerce—to the city of Fresno. Said helpful.

“Often immigrants are afraid to go to government offices and meet people who don’t speak Spanish,” she said in Spanish.

La Abeja, a newsletter written for Latinos in California

Groups like CVIIC often find creative ways to fill gaps, answer questions about the process of starting a business, and present information in accessible formats such as Facebook Live.

“It will be much easier for our organization to promote the city’s new proposed resources if everything is in one place,” she said. Additionally, having all the information online in one place for her, Petrucci will also help those with limited digital abilities, she said.

“The Hispanic people I work with are often very new to technology and how to search online, and they don’t even move from one website to another,” she said. I was.

Petrucci acknowledges the efforts of the Spanish-speaking staff of the City of Fresno’s Economic Development Department and the City of Fresno’s Community Secretariat to reach Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs.

Based on his experience working with immigrant entrepreneurs, Petrucci said Fresno is one of the only cities in the Central Valley between Caen and San Joaquin counties with business resources available in Spanish and online. says there is.

“The challenges we see in other counties are much bigger,” she said.

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