Business, community leaders talk ‘El Paso 2021 and Beyond’

On Friday, business and community leaders in the El Paso region hosted a virtual roundtable with subject matter experts and more than 70 local business owners to discuss current challenges and identify best practices for supporting the El Paso business community as it approaches the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown.

The interactive online convening, “El Paso 2021 and Beyond: Business Support and Continuity Best Practices,” was sponsored by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program and the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation. It provided a forum for wide-ranging conversation about how to better coordinate efforts to help local companies access resources and markets to maintain and grow their businesses.

“Even before the pandemic, across the country there were far fewer Latino-owned firms as a percentage of the population than non-Latino owned firms, and they reported roughly half as much in annual sales as non-Latino owned businesses,” said Domenika Lynch, Executive Director of the Latinos and Society Program at the Aspen Institute.

“When you take the trend and look at El Paso, which is 82 percent Latino, you have a situation where our region’s pre-COVID business baseline was lower than many of our peer metro areas. Understanding these numbers allows us to identify specific tactics and goals for improving them.”

The event featured a special presentation on Latino-owned businesses by Bruce Katz, Distinguished Fellow at Drexel University’s Lindy Institute for Urban Innovation and Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab, as well as comments from Ed Escudero, Vice Chairman of WestStar Bank; David Jerome, President and CEO of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce; Lupe Mares, Southwest Region Vice President of the LiftFund; and Cindy Ramos-Davidson, Chief Executive Officer at the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“Even though 74 percent of firms in El Paso are Latino-owned, 90 percent of them don’t have any employees, and they are underrepresented in key industries,” said Katz, who presented his research at the event. “We see the biggest gap in ownership in areas of manufacturing, arts and entertainment, and wholesale trade. If we want the COVID recovery to be an inclusive one that lifts up all businesses, we need to set measurable goals for minority-owned businesses, coordinate recovery efforts, and develop strategies to leverage local ecosystem strengths to boost demand and drive federal investments.”

The Nowak Metro Finance Lab estimates that if Latinos in the region owned businesses and employed people at the same rate as non-Latinos, they would contribute 2,900 more firms and 30,800 more jobs to the regional economy. The group’s report found that while El Paso has slightly more Latino-owned firms per 1,000 Latinos than the national average — 7.2 versus 6 — and Latino-owned firms in El Paso are less concentrated in the lowest-paying industries than the national average, they also earn less in annual sales than the average Latino-owned firm.

To offset losses and kickstart recovery, participants discussed the availability and use of funds under the Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) and other federal loans and grants. As of August, the city had supported more than 93,000 jobs through the program, with the average PPP loan total $95,000 compared to a national average of $107,000; regionally, 88 percent of PPP loans were under $150,000.

“WestStar is proud to be taking a lead in processing loans under PPP,” said Escudero. “There are two things that local banks and business groups can do to help El Paso companies. First, we can better coordinate our resources to help more businesses apply for and receive support from the next tranche of PPP funding. Second, we can help businesses identify more federal funding opportunities, which can be a challenge because so many funding programs are siloed within a particular department or agency. There is no reason that each company should have to figure this out on their own. We all benefit when our community has a thriving commercial sector.”

Venture capitalist and entrepreneur Beto Pallares moderated the conversation.

“Thanks to the initiative shown by the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program and the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation in coordinating this forward-looking event, and the Nowak Metro Finance Lab’s astute and rigorous drill down on our regional and sector level business data, we can move from a description of a situation to a prescription for improvement,” Pallares said.

“As an entrepreneur and educator, I know that great gains can be made if you can understand and improve processes and networks. I know we made progress on that today.”

For more information on the discussion or to see a recorded version of the roundtable visit and scroll to the bottom of the page to input your contact information.