Business and Markets

Latino Economic Mobility Through the Aspen City Action Lab

September 22, 2022  • Alejandro Manzanares & Aspen Latino Business & Entrepreneurship Initiative

Reimagining Latino business success at the local level requires not just being intentional about the unique needs and challenges Latino entrepreneurs and small business owners face to start and grow their business, but it truly demands sustained cross-sector collaboration as a precursor for success. For far too long, equitable and inclusive economic development has been pursued in sprints, and persistent market inequities have left Latinos excluded from mainstream small business and economic development efforts.

To solve for this, participant cities in the pilot program, the Aspen City Action Lab – San Antonio, El Paso, Miami, San Bernardino, Chicago, and Phoenix – through the formation of a cross-sector committee comprised of high-level leaders, have embarked on a 18-month journey that delivers a shared understanding around the true state of their Latino business economies (i.e., size, sector, and number of Latino firms), and requires one aligned action (or intervention) to be pursued by each city on behalf of their Latino business community. Program staff then connects committees to subject matter experts with proven real-world experience in their area of expertise to support them with implementation.

The Aspen City Action Lab looks to strengthen one critical pain point in the business ecosystem: how to create sustained entrepreneurial infrastructure among disparate but critical cross-sector leaders looking to drive local Latino business success. Our theory of change is simple: in order to deliver inclusive and equitable outcomes for Latino/Hispanic firms, cross-sector coalitions must become operational before a city or community need to tap into them.

Cross-sector alignment must be seeded before any systemic related crisis presents itself, or, on the contrary, federal, state, and local investment opportunities (e.g., the Economic Development Agency’s Build Back Better program, the Small Business Administration’s Community Navigator Program, Treasury’s technical assistance State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI) program, among others) come online that require collective impact support.

From creating an innovative procurement academy within the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for earlier stage firms looking to tap into public and private procurement opportunities to scale, to soon to be enacted commercial corridor redevelopments in partnership with the city government in San Bernardino, lab cities find themselves currently implementing agreed upon interventions and exploring new partnerships. This is the case for San Antonio, where thanks to the San Antonio Area Foundation, we are studying supplier diversity practices with the support of our partner Bruce Katz, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University. We are producing a procurement playbook to intentionally increase the participation of diverse firms in government procurement, particularly as infrastructure investments increase due to federal spending. This is just one strategy that San Antonio is pursuing as part of its ESTAR (Entrepreneurs and Small Business Thriving Alongside Residents) in the Westside of San Antonio) effort, a cross-section of strategies that emerged as part of their participation in the Lab.

As evidence of cross-sector coalitions become more and more a precursor for Federal investment, applied research programs like the Aspen City Action Lab have the potential to position communities for success by creating the necessary infrastructure to organize capital and business support. This is the case for Miami and El Paso, two cities looking to create critical entrepreneurship-led infrastructure in different ways. While the Miami Dade County committee is exploring creating a Micro and Small and Medium Enterprise collective impact model to better coordinate and deploy small business development resources and capital across a fragmented main street small business ecosystem, the City of El Paso, in partnership with Alameda County, is aiming at establishing a physical one-stop-center for business support organizations to offer support to entrepreneurs and small business owners.

What’s more, we’ve seen how the convening entrepreneurial-focused infrastructure of the program has been leveraged to tap into surplus American Rescue Plan dollars to help finance agreed-upon initiatives. (e.g., The City of San Bernardino allocating $1M to support their implementation phase.)

These are just a few examples of action-oriented initiatives that have proved catalytic in spurring additional private, public, and civic capital and resources into Latino communities. Inaugural lab participants will graduate in December 2022 into a new Aspen Latino City Network and staff will welcome in 2023 a new cohort of cities looking to reimagine their Latino small business economies.

To conclude, while U.S. Latinos accounted for nearly 80% of all net new businesses created during the last 10 years, the full potential of the US Latino business community is still very much untapped. In order to unlock this unprecedented economic opportunity, public, private, and civic leaders must work together on understanding Latino’s unique challenges and opportunities in the business landscape, (i.e., size sector, and number of Latino firms), and then rightsized interventions (i.e. policies, programs, practices, partnerships) that deliver economic opportunity for Latinos.

I’ve learned this: action moves at the speed of trust, and it is innovative collective impact programs like the Aspen City Action Lab that hold the key to this promise.

For more information on the Aspen City Action Lab, contact Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program, Executive Director,, visit, or follow on Twitter and Facebook at @AspenLatinos.




Target Milestone

El Paso

Establish a one-stop center for business support organizations in the Alameda Corridor with support from the county.

Secure a location for this center.


Create a procurement academy within the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Latino Policy Institute.

Complete procurement academy curriculum.


(Phase 1) Research project to have a better baseline of the state of BIPOC businesses in Miami-Dade County. (Phase 2) Institutionalize collective impact model to support Miami-Dade County small businesses.

Complete a survey of businesses in the county; identify funding; secure buy-in; identify collaborative impact model


Develop reinvestment strategy around the South-Central rail corridor.

Create framework for the displacement mitigation and corridor investment strategy/plan; identify fund amount; engage stakeholders

San Antonio

Establish a Westside Commercial Corridor Investment Fund; Identify national neighborhood anti-displacement strategies to implement locally; develop a plan for a one-stop procurement center to be located on the Westside.

Identify funding; develop memorandum of understanding

San Bernardino

Establish a one-stop-shop location and digital platform to connect small businesses with business support resources, workspaces, training, capital, and other types of support to scale their businesses.

Develop a memorandum of understanding for the entrepreneur support organizations that will have a presence in this center; Create a rollout campaign for the center.