Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis tours Reading to boost new incentives for Latino small businesses
Governor Josh Shapiro committed to fueling Latino small businesses during his budget address. His lieutenant began that work.
What could be considered the initial phase of Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro’s new investments into Latino-owned small businesses commenced on Tuesday, April 11, following a tour by his second-in-command, Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis.
Davis, chaperoned by State Representatives Manny Guzmán and newly-elected Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz, met with small businesses in Reading “for an open conversation” about how the administration can effectively fund and support current and emerging business owners in a rapidly changing region.
“When I was growing up in McKeesport, my dad worked as a union bus driver, and my mom was a hairdresser,” Davis said in a statement. “I saw firsthand how small businesses, like hair salons, child care centers, and restaurants, were the lifeblood of our neighborhood.”
“But many women-owned and minority-owned small businesses often struggle to access capital to get off the ground. The Shapiro-Davis administration wants to help support our small businesses, so our communities can thrive,” Davis wrote.
In Reading, there are plenty of Latino brick and mortars. The city houses one of the fastest-growing Latino populations in the Commonwealth, where Spanish-speaking families flock to settle, with some wards accounting for 86% of new Latino residents.
The 2022 midterm elections served as evidence of those inroads when, in November, Reading ushered in Cepeda-Freytiz, the first Latina to be elected as a state lawmaker, who also owns a Dominican restaurant on the city’s main street.
“As a Latina businesswoman and state representative, I believe that Governor Shapiro’s budget plan will provide the support that entrepreneurs and small-business owners of our community urgently need,” Cepda-Freytiz said.
“Governor Shapiro’s proposed injection into the Office of Transformation and Opportunity shows a real commitment from his administration. This is [a] fair budget that will provide long overdue funding to women- and minority-owned businesses.”
Shapiro’s announcement in March included $20 million in state dollars for investments in Latino small businesses through a new bureau, the Office of Transformation and Opportunity, to support “historically disadvantaged businesses.”
“I am laser-focused on bringing resources, helping small businesses grow, and boosting our workforce,” said Guzman, who represents a Latino-heavy region in Berks.
Guzman in March told AL DÍA that “$20 million is obviously not enough,” but that it provides us with a pathway to ‘now we have this embedded in our tax code and our budget,’ and from here on out, it’s not something that can be easily eliminated.”
Guzman also highlighted that the budget provides an opportunity to build a constituency around the investment because “whether it’s Governor Shapiro or a future governor, the only choice that they have is to invest and reinvest into this program by adding more resources on a year-to-year basis.”
Still, negotiations will continue in the PA General Assembly until June 30, marking the beginning of a new fiscal year, when lawmakers agree on a final figure.
From the campaign trail to the governor’s office
Shapiro’s pledge to fund new business on ‘main streets’ was a promise he touted on the campaign trail, including a tour through Kensington, where he visited a car shop.
He learned from a short exchange with the owner that his shop wasn’t eligible to serve the Commonwealth, a pattern all too familiar to other Latino business owners who don’t turn to government programs.
“That's not something that costs the Commonwealth money or cost them money. But it's a matter of us giving a damn about these businesses and giving them a shot to be able to do more,” Shapiro told AL DÍA in a January interview, days before he was due to swear in as Governor.