Mom-and-pop economic development
Boosting unbanked immigrant entrepreneurs in Lawrence
JOSE ROSARIO CAN barely walk a step without pointing to some of the changes he’s made since becoming the owner of Universal Auto Repair in Lawrence. There are the four new vehicle lifts; the diagnostic computers; the uniforms for his staff, complete with name tags; the fresh coat of interior paint; the break room for his employees; and the waiting area for his customers.
“If this garage is mine, I’m going to make my people comfortable,” says Rosario, who has worked on cars since he was a little boy in the Dominican Republic. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1990s, and worked for dealerships in the New York City area before settling in Lawrence.
It was only about a year ago that he was working as a mechanic at this very garage, chafing under a boss who, in Rosario’s view, mistreated his customers and employees, who ran the place like a “Mickey Mouse business,” keeping shoddy records while trying to avoid taxes. When the owner’s health took a turn and he wanted to sell the garage, Rosario saw an opportunity to finally realize his dream of owning his own shop. But even then, the prospects were dim because Rosario couldn’t find a bank willing to give him a loan, in large part because the balance sheets of the business were so sketchy.Then along came a new program called the Lawrence Venture Fund, a loan pool for local entrepreneurs. With the fund’s help, Rosario was able to purchase and overhaul the business. The feat was all the more remarkable when one considers the source of funds: a group of staid, venerable New England banks.