The University of Minnesota-Crookston has received a $100,000 grant to connect the region’s Latin community with business development programs.

The $100,000, one-year grant from the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development agency will fund the Mano Amiga program of the Veden Center for Rural Economic Development.

The program works to increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities among the growing Latino community in Crookston and Polk County areas surrounding the university. The university plans to expand the Mano Amiga program into additional geographic areas as the project takes root and grows.

The Mano Amiga program seeks to advance skills in the Latino community in several ways through educational program development, technical assistance and learning communities.

James Leiman, director of the Veden Center, said this type of program is particularly important in an area such as northern Minnesota because, while there is a “tremendous” amount of programming for Latin American and Hispanic-owned businesses and a lot of programming for rural economic development, there isn’t a lot of crossover.

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“This is kind of a unique opportunity to assist in a very specific economic climate with a specific demographic,” he said. “We're adding value, basically, where no one traditionally does.”

Leiman said critical education in business and entrepreneurship will be translated into Spanish and offered in certificate programs focused on building regional skills as well entrepreneurship and small business development skills. A goal is to increase retention and completion of course work by delivering it in participating students’ native language.

If Latin-owned businesses need help with website development, that’s another area where Mano Amiga could step in to give assistance.

Additionally, he said the program aims to connect businesses that have similar operational challenges and help them meet on a frequent basis to discuss what they’re going through and how they are working through obstacles.

Teresa Spaeth, chair of rural economic development with the Veden Center, said this program is particularly important as the Latino/Hispanic community is growing in the area. The Hispanic community makes up about 14% to 15% of Crookston currently, but Spaeth said she’s seen projections that it could grow up to 30% by 2030.

“It's important that we as communities embrace them and help them see a future here and that’s what we hope to do here at the Veden Center,” she said.

Once UMC students return to campus this fall, they will have a role in the program by helping with technical assistance, Spaeth said.

“Everybody wins from students that could help in technical assistance to Latin business owners to communities to customers,” Leiman said. “It's a win-win program in my opinion across the spectrum.”

The program will continue to ramp up over the next several months and will go for at least a year, but Leiman expects to see growth because these types of programs are so important for businesses.

“This will be really, really nice to get out and help the Latin community,” he said.