Miriam grew up seeing the challenges of being a new immigrant to the United States, especially when facing those challenges in a different language. Miriam’s mother came to the United States when she was 15 and never fully learned English.
Miriam’s mother was a part of the growing population of immigrants on Long Island making up 16% of the population today. Like immigrants across the country, they tend to be more entrepreneurial than their native born counterparts, turning to business ownership as a way to provide for themselves and their families. On Long Island they make up nearly 25% or a quarter of the island’s small businesses. These businesses restaurants, retail stores and local service providers have played a very important role in spurring the revival and growth of areas such as Hicksville, Brentwood and Westbury.
After working in insurance for years, Miriam realized that she could provide the support that her mother never received to other recent immigrants in her community. She began taking numerous online career builders, and eventually launched her own business, the Hernandez Agency, in Westbury. Her multi-service agency specializes in insurance and immigration services.
Just when her business was picking up momentum, Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island. Miriam lost power and was forced to close her business for two weeks. She had invested all her life savings in this business, and was terrified that she would lose everything she had worked so hard to achieve. She looked for help, but she didn’t qualify for financial assistance from her bank, the City or FEMA.
Access to financing is a dilemma that small business owners on Long Island face daily, not just during times of disaster. Though Hurricane Sandy made the threat immediate, Miriam would have been challenged to access a loan for her business regardless. Businesses like Miriam’s are often considered too small, new or informal for traditional financing options. Instead, these business owners turn to the alternative lending space. On Long Island, that leaves the 54,000 microenterprises there with just three options. These lenders are small, averaging about 10 loans a year.