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Small Businesses: Creating Jobs, Creating Futures

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By Paul Quintero, CEO of Accion East and Online

In 1991, Uvalda was laid off from her manufacturing job in Brooklyn because of the recession. The country had initiated its first war in the Middle East (then called 'Gulf War 1'), several hundreds of savings and loan institutions were taken over by the government because of unsound real estate lending and unemployment shot up to levels not seen until today.
Sound familiar?

Despite years of manufacturing experience earned from working in the 'maquiladoras' of Northern Mexico, Uvalda was now frantically searching for a way to help support her husband and newborn child. She had to find another manufacturing job; it was the only work she knew how to do.

Or was it?

On her way to knocking on yet another closed factory door, she came across a junk yard and saw an abandoned food truck that caught her eye. She approached the owner and asked whether he would rent it to her? No one was buying scrap metal at the time so he conceded but asked what in the world she planned to do with a food truck in the middle of a recession? Her response: "Sell Mexican food during lunch to those working in the factory." To which he retorted, "Mexican food in New York City? It will never work!" Fortunately, she did not listen.
Each day she bought the ingredients needed for the lunch sales and generated just enough to restock her ingredients for the next day, spend on necessities for her now expanded family and pay for the truck rental (which she rented for about $50 a month). It was barely better than hand to mouth, but it was working. At least, it was working until the junkyard owner told her that she had to buy the truck outright or forget her dream about selling Mexican food in Brooklyn.

Like any good entrepreneur, she pleaded with the owner and negotiated a rock bottom price of $500. Unfortunately, neither she nor her husband had what seemed like a princely sum readily available.

What to do?

A friend told her about a new nonprofit organization in the neighborhood called, Accion East and Online, a member of the Accion U.S. Network. "Accion" means "action" in Spanish and Accion was extending its successful microlending work in Latin America to Brooklyn, New York, in the midst of a recession.

Accion's first loan was a $500 loan to Uvalda so she could purchase her food truck. It would be the first loan of over 20,000 loans disbursed since 1991, totaling more than $132 million in capital to enterprising entrepreneurs like Uvalda.

Uvalda borrowed the $500 and purchased the food truck from the skeptical junkyard owner. She named her small business "Antojitos Mexicanos", which loosely translates to 'Mexican appetizers'. That one truck soon generated enough revenue to acquire a second truck. In time, Uvalda grew from two food trucks to a store front restaurant and expanded from one restaurant to two restaurants. In time, she would move from generating just enough money to feed the family to having several thousands of dollars a month of disposable income. It's not Google or Microsoft type wealth, but it's the kind of income that helped America create one of the largest middle class societies in the world.

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Twenty years later, Uvalda eventually sold her two Brooklyn restaurants and moved to Texas where she continues in the food business today, but with an expanded family of four children. Importantly, two of her children have graduated from college and two are soon to apply--all supported by Mom's crazy idea of selling Mexican food in New York!

What was that $500 loan worth to society?

Today' talk about the importance of small businesses in creating 'jobs' is often limited to static measures like the numbers of jobs created or the number of people employed or unemployed, today.

Rather, we should be talking about tomorrow and the futures that small businesses create. Also, we need to better quantify the lost opportunity of NOT developing one person's entrepreneurial future over years to come.

Think about how much revenue was generated from Uvalda's $500 food truck over twenty years? Think about many people worked with Uvalda, possibly supporting a family of their own or going to school to better themselves, because of Uvalda's $500 food truck. Think about the Brooklyn community that now had a new cuisine and the Mexican food culinary explosion that set off in New York because of Uvalda and other intrepid Mexican entrepreneurs. Think of all the future possibilities that would otherwise have been shut closed but for one organization's decision to fund Uvalda's 'crazy' food truck dream.

Accion supports entrepreneurs who do not just create 'jobs', but who create 'futures' for both themselves, their families, their communities and by extension, our country. We need to support and make investments in entrepreneurs today if we want better outcomes for our country tomorrow. Looking at the impact that just one $500 loan had with Uvalda, can America afford not to?