A new immigrant welcome center in Portland, Maine, is open for businesses.
The hub at 24 Preble St. will be a space where immigrant entrepreneurs can get training, advice, and resources.
Alain Nahimana, an immigrant from Burundi, and Damas Rugaba, an immigrant from Rwanda, came up with the idea for the Greater Portland Immigrant Welcome Center about three years ago. They wanted to bring different immigrant service providers together, and make it easier for immigrants to open businesses.
The center has meeting spaces and a business incubator. Immigrants can receive English classes and computer training. A partnership with cPort Credit Union will give immigrants access to loans to pay for citizenship fees.
“It’s going to make a difference for Maine, and it’s going to make a difference for America,” said Senator Angus King (I-Maine), who attended Monday’s ribbon cutting. “Qualified workers are the most serious problem in terms of long-term development of the Maine economy, and this is part of the solution.”
According to a 2016 Kauffman Foundation report, immigrant-owned businesses make up about a quarter of all new businesses in the United States.
“We want to be our own boss. We want to start something ourselves,” said Ebenezer Akakpo, an immigrant from Ghana who started his own design business after immigrating to Maine.
He said one of his biggest challenges launching Akakpo & Co was learning computer skills.
“I don’t know any type of computers,” he said. “In fact, I thought if I touched a keyboard, it would explode.”
Now, he is comfortable with technology and selling his own handcrafted jewelry and designs.
“I wish I had this [Immigrant Welcome Center] when I migrated here,” said Akakpo.
There are already three immigrant-owned businesses operating out of the welcome center, and Nahimana said there is room for at least five more.