The day – Minority businesses thrive in the Norwich area

When the owner of Uncle D’s Blazin ‘BBQ suffered a fire in a restaurant earlier this year, she did not allow misfortune to defeat her.

Instead, while cleaning up the fire, she had to work harder than ever to diversify her business by continuing to operate two food trucks while expanding into catering.

“It was a painful process of insurance documents,” said Angelina Gardner, owner of Uncle D’s. “We failed to do anything outside the building. Thank God we have both food trucks. That saved us. ”

The food truck business has expanded into the New England area and now its Comfort Catering is starting to take hold.

The community has also gotten involved, and this is the union on which Norwich’s businesses are built.

Uncle D’s is just one of many successful Norwich-owned minority businesses that have strengthened the community, and this friendship between Norwich companies may be the reason for bringing the city to the forefront of a recent study.

Conducted by Smartest Dollar and based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual business survey and the U.S. community survey, this report shows that the Norwich-New London statistical area is ranked sixth nationwide in terms of minority businesses to minority populations. Nationwide data show that while four out of five organizations are owned by non-Hispanic whites, minority businesses account for more than half of start-ups in the past decade, creating 4.7 million new jobs.

The percentage of minority enterprises in the district is 11.6%.

Gardner, also a member of Rose City BNI (Business Network International), was born and raised in Norwich – the reason she started her business here. She is not surprised by the high rank.

“I see growth in recent years. I think everyone here has this desire and is proud of where it comes from. I am proud to own a business. “People realize they can do it now,” she said.

However, she acknowledged that this is not an easy endeavor, which makes the rankings even more impressive. “You have to do your research and it will be difficult. In the first five years, this is when the business will fail. You have to overcome it to get to the other end, “she advised.

It is a feeling reflected by others.

“Connecticut is not the easiest place in the world to start a business,” said Tony Sheridan, chief executive of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and an Irish immigrant. “I really admire everyone who starts a business. You don’t want to fail. Many companies are underfunded, but still determined to work. ”

Sheridan has the unique prospect of being an immigrant, and looking at the area from his point of view shows why he attracts so many small businesses.

“Many people come to work in the casino for a while. The area is attractive, people move families here and then want to start their own business. I had the same goal when I immigrated here, “he said.

Michael Rau, president and CEO of Chelsea Groton Bank, is monitoring business growth despite the pandemic.

“Whatever their motives, this is what has built our country and built our region,” he said. “If we look at business statistics, New London County has a divided business environment,” he said, divided between the big casino businesses, Pfizer and the U.S. Naval Submarine Base, and small businesses.

“The 2010 census shows that more than half of New London’s businesses are $ 500,000 or less in basic revenue. It’s not Mom and Dad. It’s mom or dad, “he said, emphasizing that we are very happy in this region to have these small businesses.

“With the different cultures in the region,” he said, “it makes sense to me that they are owned by minorities.”

With 3.6 million people in Connecticut, one in five is born in another state. Many of them are in large enterprises, and 7% start a business for themselves. About 28% of them are immigrants.

“It’s a very friendly area. “I would say there is less discrimination here than in other parts of the country,” Sheridan added. “There is openness here.”

Rauch also noted the region’s remarkable programs that support those seeking help starting a business. The University of Chelsea, run by the bank, is an educational training program for small business owners. These eight to 10-week programs are “training camps” for business training.

“Just because you’re a good plumber or cook doesn’t mean you’re good at marketing, accounting, or a good business owner,” he suggested.

He mentioned the help of other programs in Norwich, such as Foundry 66, a shared workspace where people can rent their own office space. The space is managed by the Norwich Community Development Corporation, which also manages The Working Lab, culturally dedicated business classes and Global City Norwich. The latter promotes economic development and cultural diversity through downtown festivals with suppliers and pop-up companies.

Suki Lagritto, who works with Global City Norwich, is a Filipino American and co-owner of The Main Plug, a streetwear store on Main Street. For her, a native of Canada, starting a business in Norwich meant exposing people to a new culture through clothing.

She has also seen minority businesses in the area grow exponentially over the past few years.

“In our area, many minorities who were born in the first or second generation, like me, are already familiar with small business. In other countries, it is very common to start a business as a means of subsistence, instead of taking a CV, “said Lagrito.

“During the global pandemic, between March 2020 and June 2021, more than 10 minority-owned businesses were opened in the city of Norwich.

Since then, their numbers have grown.

There is a familiar connection between business owners and the community, which may be why Norwich ranks so high in this study, along with many educational resources and, for some, the need for a new career after the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Gardner, the most important thing a business can do is give back. This will help everyone grow together, and maybe that’s Norwich’s magic.

“You have to plant a seed in your community to thrive. You have to grow it and water it. It’s hard, “she admitted,” but we can work together and help each other rise. We are a competition, but we are also a community. ”

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