MCEDC Helps Small and Minority Businesses Start, Grow and Thrive
An Interview with Daniel Parra
Daniel Parra assumed the role of Director of Small and Minority Business last month for MCEDC, but his professional life has been dedicated to helping other small businesses grow. We dive deeper into Daniel’s passion below.
Q: Talk to us about your exposure to small business and what inspired you to take this role.
A: I grew up in Colombia – the country, not our Howard County neighbor! As a child I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, as my extended family all ran a variety of small businesses.
As a college student in Colombia I studied to become an economist. I had very good teachers who taught me not only the principles of economics, but also that there are always people and human stories behind the statistics. Those lessons inspired me to apply the academic theories I learned in university to the real challenges and tough decisions that entrepreneurs must make on a regular basis in order to grow.
After college I launched my own company that processed insurance claim adjustments. Working with customers, policymakers and vendors taught me how to market my business and gave me the real-life tools I needed to not only grow my own business, but others who were just getting started.
Q: What type of support have you provided small and minority-owned businesses since moving to the United States?
A: I moved my family and I to the U.S. when I was 39. The instability of the Colombian economy and a long-standing culture of corruption made me realize that I should pursue the American Dream and relocate to a country that has a proud history of immigrants contributing to the national economy.
Having consulted for many start-up companies in Colombia, I initially worked for the Spanish Catholic Center in D.C., helping fellow immigrants learn the type of English they needed to start a business, get a bank loan, etc. In this role I got connected right away with the local minority business community, and I realized this was my new calling.
Q: The “minority” label has evolved over time – and in many parts of Montgomery County minority-owned businesses are actually the majority, such as the bustling international tapestries in Wheaton, Long Branch and Gaithersburg. How do you plan to walk this line and deliver the help and information that’s available to this sector?
A: This is absolutely true. Because of the welcoming nature of Montgomery County, organic clusters of minority-owned businesses have sprung up, mainly through the support of their fellow countrymen. I plan to formally introduce MCEDC to these clusters and educate them on the full range of economic development assistance we can provide.
Immigrants are often skeptical of government and many times they pursue success on their own – not knowing that there are a range of opportunities from local government for them to take advantage of.
For example, Montgomery County offers a program called the Local Small Business Reserve Program (LSBRP), which requires County departments to award 20 percent (with specified exceptions) of their procurements for goods, services and construction to registered and certified local, small County-run businesses. My department intends to inform more of our businesses about this program and will organize workshops and seminars that will lead them through the certification process. So, I see my team’s role as a ‘bridge to opportunity’, providing many start-ups with solutions for getting into the procurement process – perhaps as a subcontractor first until they gain more capital.
Q: Due to past resistance and cultural segregation, many minority businesses have achieved success on their own, and though financial support from their individual communities. Is there greater potential to for more success if these business owners work more collectively?
A: Absolutely! The acculturation process is the same – no matter what background business owners originate from. Building partnerships is the key. When I led the Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce I created a mutually beneficial partnership with Hispanic and minority/women-owned businesses, and I intend to do the same for MCEDC.
For example, the D.C. region has a thriving network of Asian American-owned businesses. Better leveraging our own Asian community of businesses could not only open up more growth for the County, but also help attract more international investment as well.
We also have very powerful tools at our disposal that small businesses need to about, such as the Montgomery County MOVE program. Earlier this month MCEDC was delighted to help the women-owned Elite Insurance Solutions open their new business in Rockville with the financial assistance that MOVE provides new businesses, by way of relocation, initial rent and utility expenses.
Q: Any additional goals you’d like to tell us about?
A: I am hiring two more business development experts in the months ahead. Together, we will truly embed ourselves into the diverse fabric of the County – ensuring that every constituency is heard and represented in our long-term plans. While we certainly rely on large, international employers like Marriott and Lockheed Martin, small businesses really are the backbone of our economy. It’s essential that we communicate this message of inclusion to every corner of the county.