GEORGETOWN — With a $100,000 grant in hand and M&T Bank’s continued support, La Plaza Delaware is continuing to expand its entrepreneurship support services in Sussex County, and has its eyes set on opening an office in the near future.
Last week, M&T Bank awarded the nonprofit a one-time grant to help fund a part-time trainer for Launcher Entrepreneurship Program as well as offering scholarships for the Hispanic Alliance for Career Enhancement (HACE), which is due to start in the new year. Part of the funding will also cover some costs for computers as well as a lease on a building along Route 9 in Georgetown.
“My vision is that the Latino community will have economic and political power, and so they will really have a voice and influence to achieve the lifestyle they have worked so hard to achieve,” La Plaza Delaware Executive Director Mary Dupont said. “M&T Bank has been very supportive of that mission, and we’re grateful for this grant and for the opportunities it will bring.”
La Plaza officially launched in 2021, and has served more than 250 Latino-owned small businesses in Sussex County. The nonprofit includes a comprehensive package of business plan training, technical assistance, consultation services and access to credit to help Latino entrepreneurs start or expand their businesses. Recently, it has partnered with the Delaware Hispanic Commission and Nuestras Raices Delaware.
The grant marks the second time in two years that M&T Bank has invested in La Plaza Delaware, a nonprofit that aims to improve economic outcomes and capital access for Latino business owners in the First State. Last year, M&T Bank awarded La Plaza a series of grants that totaled $100,000 to aid in hiring a business/financial coach and support for a 12-week Spanish-language business development program.
That grant also helped La Plaza start a loan pool administered by True Access Capital that makes microloans of $2,500 to $10,000 to Latino-owned small businesses.
The relationship with La Plaza Delaware makes business sense: its branch in Georgetown is among the 118 designated by the bank as multicultural centers and Sussex County’s population of Hispanic residents is projected to rise 53% by 2050.
About 10% of the county’s residents identify as Hispanic or Latino – a nearly 60% increase from 2010 to 2021, according to U.S. Census data.
“The Latino community is the fastest growing immigrant population in the country, and American Latinos as a group help produce the third-fastest growing GDP in the world,” Dupont added. “They’re hardworking, and not only bringing in income, they’re spending it. For any nonprofit or business out there, it’s a good idea to pay attention.”
But M&T Bank Vice President and Regional CRA Officer Randy Kunkle pointed out it’s about building in-roads with a community that may not trust institutions. He and Dupont have crossed paths many times over the last 30 years, and previously served as a board member with the nonprofit La Esperanza. Today, he also serves as La Plaza’s board treasurer and advisor.
“Anybody can write a check, but you need to bring other resources a bank has to offer,” Kunkle said. “Some of the population is distrustful of banks, maybe based on what they experienced in their own countries. I heard one story about someone having money in the bank in their country, and when the government saw it, they took it. That’s when you can really understand the distrust.”
But it’s also why Kunkle believe’s it’s vital to maintain a steady presence in Sussex County. The Georgetown commercial branch manager has taught lessons on financing credit with the Launcher program, and has worked with clients on possible bank loans outside of the public programs. Kunkle and other management staff participated in speed networking events hosted by La Plaza, and M&T Bank is continuing to advertise for multilingual associates out in the community.
“You have to think outside the box in ways to help build that trust, that knowledge that we’re here to help them succeed, and I don’t mean by just helping them open accounts,” he said.
M&T Bank’s contribution to La Plaza also is part of its $43 billion community growth plan announced in 2021, which plans to make impactful investments in minority communities throughout the bank’s 12-state footprint over many years.
“M&T’s commitment to La Plaza is one way we’re supporting the Hispanic and Latino community in Sussex County, but it certainly won’t be the only way,” M&T Bank Regional President for Delaware Nick Lambrow said in a statement. “While we’re focused on strengthening our existing relationships with organizations like La Plaza, we also want to increase our cultural fluency and spark additional growth and stability within this community. That’s important to the overall success of Delaware.”