Beechview mural. All photos by Brian Conway.

Even in the best circumstances, launching a small business is a difficult task for a first-time entrepreneur. If the entrepreneur is a recently arrived immigrant with limited English language skills and no experience with city services, it can seem downright impossible.

To help develop and tap the talent of our newly arrived neighbors, the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation (PHDC) and the city government are moving ahead on launching a business incubator aimed specifically at supporting entrepreneurs from Latin America.

The cross-cultural component is what makes the incubator unique,” says Guillermo Velazquez, director of special projects at the PHDC

As Velazquez explains, the incubator will offer many of the same services the PHDC offers new businesses via its one-on-one counseling. In keeping with their diverse clientele, the group offers training for professionals at any stage of their careers.

He describes their clientele as broadly fitting into the service sector: Many are chefs and painters, along with accountants and advertisers.

“Many of these people already were business owners in their countries,” he says. “Some people we have to teach how to use a computer, actually.”

A motion to offer a 29-year lease agreement to the PHDC was introduced into Pittsburgh City Council by Mayor Peduto last Wednesday. It was approved unanimously by the council on March 26.

The building at 1555 Broadway Avenue is owned by the city, and already includes civic-minded tenants including Muddy Cup Coffee House and the Beechview Senior Center.

“I am excited for the next stage of development in Beechview where we will welcome a wonderful community partner in PHDC,” said City Councilman Anthony Coghill in an announcement about the lease. “With the cooperation of our law department, the Mayor’s office, Senator Fontana, PHDC and my office, we are now able to bring new jobs and opportunities into our neighborhood. I look forward to the business district thriving and growing as we bring more businesses and nonprofits to Broadway Avenue.”

In addition to offering counsel from trained staff fluent in Spanish, Portuguese and English at their new location, the PHDC’s incubator will provide coworking space, classes in web design and networking opportunities with lawyers and financiers.

“I commend the PHDC for their commitment in helping revitalize the business district in Beechview,” said State Senator Wayne Fontana in his own statement. “The addition of the incubator will enhance the existing senior center, provide opportunities for businesses to grow and continue allowing more and more people the chance to experience this community on the rise.”

While Pittsburgh lags behind other similarly-sized cities in immigration rates, neighborhoods in the South Hills have seen notable growth in their Hispanic populations over the last decade.

Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh last month from her own office on Broadway, Casa San José Executive Director Monica Ruiz explained that newcomers from Mexico and South and Central America have settled in Beechview and the surrounding neighborhoods thanks to affordable rents and access to the city’s growing service economy.

Velazquez says that the organization will have open bids for the contracts to build out the space over the next several months, and PHDC hopes to move in this fall.

Bill O'Toole

Bill O'Toole was a full-time reporter for NEXTpittsburgh until October, 2019. He previously reported in Myanmar.