Boro’s Asian biz owners seek more SBA help

By Alex Robinson

The federal government could do more to help Queens’ immigrant and minority small business owners access services they desperately need by providing better linguist outreach, Asian-American business leaders said at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

The House of Representatives’ Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce held the hearing to determine what the U.S. Small Business Administration can do better to reach immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners.

“While the SBA does many things well, there have been concerns about how well its programs are tailored to underserved communities,” said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), who serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee, said at the Queens College hearing. “With the face of small business changing, it is vital that the agency keep pace — conducting meaningful outreach to those entrepreneurs who could most benefit from this type of assistance.”

The SBA is a federal agency that was set up to help small businesses by providing loans, grants, counseling and government contracts.

Minority business leaders contended immigrant entrepreneurs in Queens have had difficulty taking advantage of these services because of cultural and linguistic barriers.

Bill Imida, CEO of communications firm IW Group, said more outreach specialists with language and cross-cultural experience are needed to bridge the gap.

“Although tools are available to help the Asian-American and Pacific Islander small business owners secure information about federal contracting opportunities, there continues to be a lack of knowledge and awareness about them and about how to utilize these options,” Imida said.

He also pushed for an increase in business development centers in the borough, as well as other growing immigrant communities since there are only two SBA centers in Queens.

Although there has been an increasing amount of outreach to immigrant small business owners in different languages, there are not always linguistically appropriate service providers at centers when business owners arrive at them, said Joyce Moy, executive director of the Asian American/Asian Research Institute at Queens College.

“To be fair, SBA and other federal agencies have tried to partner with community-based organizations that may have the cultural and linguistic capacity as needed,” she said. “However, these organizations are often not given adequate support, financial and otherwise, so they lack resources and the training needed to assist the immigrant business owner in a meaningful way.”

Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at arobinson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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