Growth, challenges and opportunities for Hispanic/Latino business owners in Nebraska

Yolanda Diaz works on a skirt in her Little Miss Fashion shop in Omaha. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)
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January 29, 2015 - 6:45am

Nebraska’s Hispanic/Latino population is growing rapidly, expected to triple in the next 35 years. With this comes a growth in Latino-owned businesses in the state. 


Marta Chavez (front) and Dolores Diarcos (back) working at Little Miss Fashion (all photos by Mike Tobias, NET News, unless otherwise noted)

 


Yolanda Diaz holds her best-selling Little Miss Fashion design.

 


Nancy Flock (Center for Rural Affairs photo)

 


Lissette Aliaga-Linares gives a presentation on Latino population growth.

 


Marta Sonia Londono Mejia outside her south Omaha office.

 


Diaz hopes to move Little Miss Fashion production into a location nine times larger in the near future.

 


ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Latino Business in Nebraska - University of Nebraska at Omaha Office of Latino/Latin American Studies report

"Nebraska's Hispanic/Latino Population Could Triple by 2050" - NET News story

Industrial sewing machines sporadically purr at the hands of Marta Chavez and Delores Diarcos in one corner of a 700 square foot room. There’s not a lot of space to move around here. Between the bolts of material, the brightly-colored girl’s outfits that adorn mannequins and hang from rods along one wall, and a long work table full of more supplies.

At one end of that table 55-year-old Yolanda Diaz uses scissors to cut a piece of brown material for a skirt. This space in a central Omaha office building is home to Little Miss Fashion. Diaz started the business in 2004, but her interest in fashion began much earlier, as a young girl in the Mexican city of Chihuahua.

“I loved clothing and fashion and all this, but part of the big family in Mexico, (there was) no money for that,” Diaz recalled. “So I was start thinking, ‘Well I can make that.’ I did. I used to make my clothes when I was a little girl.”

Doing alterations helped her pay for college. Diaz graduated and got a good job with the Mexican government, but realized she could make more money making clothing. She started a business making children’s clothing, and in 1996 she moved to Omaha, bringing with her the same ambition. Launching Little Miss Fashion took time, and wasn’t easy. But once a showcase at an Omaha fashion show connected her to an online retailer, zulily.com, business really took off. With Diaz and six employees (two full-time and four part-time), Little Miss Fashion now sells 200 to 400 dresses, skirts and other pieces a week. All are for pre-teen girls, and all are designed by Diaz, who said “every new design is my favorite.”

“The line of Little Miss Fashion is dressing your little girl to shine,” Diaz said. “I love doing it.”

For anyone, starting a business is hard work. Diaz says she works 16-18 hours a day, seven days a week. But she says being a Latino in Nebraska means additional challenges.

For me, the most difficult thing as a Latino, it was you don’t know the system,” Diaz said, “and how to do everything in the right way, and you have to look for somebody who really inform you how to do everything right. This is the hard part.”

Nancy Flock is the daughter of a Hispanic business owner. Now she helps others in the North Platte area overcome these challenges as a loan specialist for the Center for Rural Affairs Hispanic Business Center. “Language is obviously the first (challenge) that many of them face,” Flock said, “and I mean just doing business in the United States compared to their native country is a whole different experience. We have laws and regulations, and if you’re in a certain industry, for example like a salon business or something, in their native countries you can just go out and cut hair. Here you have to have your licenses and that type of thing.”

In spite of the challenges, Hispanic/Latino business owners are finding success in Nebraska. “I think we are seeing growth,” Flock said, noting that the number of Latinos her office worked with increased from 400 to 1,000 in the last five years.

A study of recently-released Census information from the early 2000s noted the number of Hispanic-owned businesses increased more than 50 percent, a faster rate than overall business growth, and experts believe that trend continues. Lissette Aliaga-Linares worked on that study, and continues to track Latino businesses in Nebraska for her job with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Office of Latino/Latin American Studies.

“You have more Latino population. You have more Latinos in the labor force and more Latinos that will be more likely to become entrepreneurs,” Aliaga-Linares said. “They want to move out of low-paid jobs, you know, so a venue for social mobility and family investment.”

“We are in a phase right now that they are growing,” Marta Sonia Londono Mejia said. She helped start the Nebraska Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and is now a south Omaha-based Latino Business Development Consultant for the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “They have a lot of businesses in construction and we see businesses in jewelry, tailors. Restaurants, cleaning companies. Services business, retail. Not much manufacturing.”

“I am seeing quite a few businesses in downtown areas doing very well. I do a lot of work in Lexington and I think that downtown would be non-existent without that Hispanic community driving that growth,” Flock said. “They really kind of gravitate towards retail or service as far as restaurant and food type of businesses.”

A few trends Aliaga-Linares has observed include that the types of business Latinos own are defined by gender, with male-owned businesses tending to be in construction and female-owned businesses concentrated in health care and social assistance. More than half are home-based, and a third are family or husband-wife businesses. Latino-owned businesses are more likely to retain workers, something Aliaga-Linares said could be attributed to the family connections of these businesses. “One of my speculations is maybe these are very family-oriented businesses; it is much different to fire your cousin than any other people that you just hired,” Aliaga-Linares said.

But they’re also more likely to fail than other businesses. Many are new and lack business plans, which makes survival harder. Aliago-Linares said money is also an issue. “These are very under-capitalized as start-ups, and usually when you have low capital to start with, you have also low probability of survival.”

“I think another important problem has been the access to capital,” Londono Mejia said. “They don’t have access to the banks. They don’t have money to grow.” She adds that some Latino business owners might be scared of a financial system they don’t understand, or hindered by language barriers, and she noted that some banks have added Spanish-speaking staff.

“A lot of the times Hispanic business owners, they don’t believe in going and taking out a loan for something they want to do,” Flock added. “They want to pay for everything up front in cash and that’s great, but sometimes in order to start up these ideas or expand these ideas, it just takes money to make money.”

Helped in part by two small business loans. Little Miss Fashion has grown from its start in Yolanda Diaz’s basement. Diaz said there are challenges, but called Nebraska a good place for Latino entrepreneurs. She said the cost of doing business is low, the “economy is stronger here than other states, and there are a lot of opportunities for getting everything you need.”

In the near future she hopes to move into a Latino-owned business park being developed in south Omaha. “I will be in a big space, 10 times bigger than this one,” Diaz said, when asked about her vision for the future of Little Miss Fashion. “I see my company with maybe 50 employees, and I see my company with a store open. Little Miss Fashion store.”

Big dreams that started with a little girl and her passion for fashion.

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