International Hartford
1:52 pm
Fri October 11, 2013

Hartford Boosts Immigrant Entrepreneurs

Park Street in Hartford.
Credit Tucker Ives / WNPR
Milagros Cruz introduces International Hartford, a new non-profit looking to support immigrant-owned businesses.
Credit Harriet Jones / WNPR

People who immigrate to the United States are twice as likely as native born Americans to start their own businesses. A new organization in Hartford says that entrepreneurial spirit needs to be fostered to help the city's economy.

For Milagros Cruz, there's a direct relationship between immigrant owned businesses and the vibrancy of a city. "Just look around Hartford: they create jobs," she said. "I have one client, who opened a restaurant on Park Street in Hartford, who's created five jobs."

In addition to being the daughter of an entrepreneurial family, Cruz is an immigration attorney, and she said in her practice, she has daily experience of the barriers foreign-born entrepreneurs face in starting companies. "It's a trust issue," she explained. "Some of my clients I have found come from countries where they don't trust their government. Banks are part of that government, and so they try to stay away from the mainstream. They try and stay away from anything official, anything government related."

That led Cruz to help in the formation of a new non-profit called International Hartford. It will partner with immigrants who want to start businesses or who are already entrepreneurs, help them navigate red tape, and access credit and other essential services. It also wants to promote Hartford as a potential destination for entrepreneurial immigrants from elsewhere, who are prepared to make a commitment to the city. "There's a great deal of interest," Cruz said. "We have about a dozen clients so far and we haven't even opened our doors."

Art Feltman used to work for the city of Hartford, and he's now the executive director of International Hartford. One of the organization's early clients wants to open a taco truck; another to import products from his native Morocco. "One of the things that we think that immigrants can help Hartford with," Feltman said, "is to create those trade links both for import and export that we're not experiencing right now."

Feltman and Cruz have led two events this week in the city to introduce their new organization, to both immigrant groups and to potential service providers who might be able to help them. And they've attracted interest from state government too. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill said the immigrant experience is one which she, along with many Americans, can identify with. "My grandmother was a tough, tough businesswoman," said Merrill, "and bought a lot of property. She was an Irish immigrant, and she always used to say: I want to own the ground I stand on. She died when she was 98, and worked till the day she died."

Merrill said her office, which registers all businesses in the state, is looking forward to the connections this new organization can provide, and the data it may generate about just how immigrant businesses affect our economy. Some of those numbers may also challenge stereotypes -- for instance, a quarter of all high tech firms in the U.S. are owned by immigrants.

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