By DANIELA ALTIMARI, firstname.lastname@example.org The Hartford Courant
5:18 p.m. EDT, October 10, 2013
HARTFORD – Can taco truck owners, Asian grocers and barbers from Bosnia help to spark an economic revival in Hartford?
A new group dedicated to helping immigrant entrepreneurs launch small businesses is banking on the notion. International Hartford aims to become a clearinghouse for immigrant merchants, providing them with information and resources to realize their dreams–and revive Connecticut’s struggling capitol city in the process.
“We are and will continue to be a city of immigrants,” Mayor Pedro Segarra said at the new group’s kickoff event, held Thursday morning at Hartford City Hall. “It is immigrants that have basically built the city.”
Even before European settlers arrived, the place that became Hartford was a trading ground for various Native American tribes, the mayor said. Subsequent waves of immigrants from all over the world settled in the city, each bringing new energy and economic power.
But in recent years, city and state leaders emphasized massive and expensive economic revitalization projects, such as Adriaen’s Landing, over smaller scale neighborhood-level businesses. Art Feltman, the executive director of International Hartford, dubbed them “big bang” developments.
“And that’s been successful and that has helped revive the city but it really hasn’t done much for the neighborhoods,” Feltman added. “It hasn’t provided upward mobility…for the people in the neighborhoods of Hartford.”
International Hartford is not an immigrants’ rights advocacy organization. It also is not an investment group making micro-loans to immigrant-owned businesses.
Instead, it will act more as a clearinghouse, or a “cultural broker,” in Feltman’s words, by providing would-be entrepreneurs the resources they need to kickstart their dreams.
The group intends to seek about $55,000 from the city of Hartford to get established, Feltman said.
The group has already met with at least one potential client—a woman from Mexico who hopes to open a taco truck in Colt Park but needed help navigating the maze of government regulations.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who office oversees corporate filings, said she does not know how many of the state’s roughly 350,000 businesses are immigrant-owned. “We are trying to start much more data-collection…I want to know a lot more about who those businesses are,” she said.
But Merrill said the old stereotypes of immigrants don’t hold true. About a third of immigrants in the Hartford area hold college or graduate degrees, she said. “The typical stereotype…we have of the unskilled immigrant worker is no longer valid,” she said. “Most have graduated high school and attended some college…we’re getting a different kind of immigrant now than we had in previous years.”
Merrill recalled her own grandparents, who came to the U.S. from Ireland and, like many immigrants, they opened a business. “Americans instinctively believe this is a land of opportunity,” she said.
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