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City Learning and Action Lab

San Antonio, TX, one of the five cities the City Learning and Action Lab will work with to spur economic growth for Latino-owned businesses

The City Learning and Action Lab has launched in five Latino-majority cities across the U.S. 

On June 8, 2021, The Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program launched the 12-month City Learning and Action Lab in partnership with Drexel University’s Nowak Metro Finance Lab and Christopher Gergen, the CEO of impact investment firm, Forward Impact and Aspen Institute Henry Crown Fellow.

Under the Latino Business and Entrepreneurship Initiative, the City Learning and Action Lab will work with five Latino-majority communities to spur economic growth in regions where COVID-19 exacerbated long-existing inequities. The initiative is a hub and spoke model designed to support anchor organizations in each city to form an entrepreneurial ecosystem steering committee composed of 8 to 10 key cross-sector leaders. Committee members will coalesce around strategic priorities and implement solutions to boost and sustain the local Latino business economy. The first cohort of cities includes Long Beach and San Bernardino in California, the Southwest side of Chicago in Illinois, and El Paso and San Antonio in Texas.

The initiative is funded by generous public, corporate and individual philanthropic support, including: the City of San Bernardino; Vanir Construction Management Inc.; Dr. J. Mario Molina; Secretary Henry Cisneros; the Woody and Gayle Hunt Family Foundation, and the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and other donors.

“This is the first program of its kind focused on Latino majority cities and communities to strengthen local entrepreneurial ecosystems,” said Domenika Lynch, Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Latinos & Society Program.  “There’s tremendous innovation happening in Latino communities as they work to rebuild after Covid-19, but access to capital, capacity building, and collaboration are needed to scale impact. The City Learning and Action Lab empowers and enhances local leaders’ efforts to attract capital investment and resources to Latino communities where they live and operate. What is so exciting is that local funders are embracing our vision of curating Latino-centric communities to learn, innovate together, and connect to national networks to catalyze change in their local communities.”

In May 2021, the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Program launched a report, Latino Inclusion in the Digital Economy that laid bare the impact of Covid-19 on Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. One of the key findings included research by McKinsey & Company which found the five business sectors most affected by the pandemic – leisure and hospitality, retail trade, construction, transportation, and other services – generate almost 50 percent of revenue for all Latino-owned businesses. Through the City Learning and Action Lab, the Nowak Metro Finance Lab at Drexel University will work closely with the Aspen Institute Latinos and Society team to help local regions take stock of the number, size, and sector orientation of Latino-owned businesses to identify opportunities and pain points and crack the code for business growth in Latino communities in a post-Covid economy.

”Latino-owned businesses have been a major driver of the U.S. economy, but they are fewer and smaller and tend to be more concentrated in the lowest-paying sectors than white-owned businesses,” said Bruce Katz, Founder and Director of the Drexel Nowak Metro Finance Lab. “We’re eager to establish a clear pre-COVID baseline for Latino-owned firms as a first step to create a post-pandemic roadmap to grow the number and scale of firms, as well as their participation in high wage, growth sectors of our economy.”

Prior to the pandemic, Latino entrepreneurs accounted for the highest rate of new business creation in the U.S., growing at a rate of 34% in the past decade according to a study by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative. The Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative also reported 86% of Latino-owned businesses experienced immediate negative effects of Covid-19 in the first months of the shutdownAccording to the Brookings Institution, 80% of Latino-owned small and medium enterprises did not receive Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) financing, which has been crucial for businesses across the country. 

“I am excited to invest in Latino business development for San Bernardino,” said Dorene C. Dominguez, CEO of Vanir Construction Management and Aspen Institute Latinos and Society Advisory Board Member.  “Latino-owned businesses are San Bernardino’s ‘economic opportunity’ to grow and develop its local economy.”

Henry Cisneros, Chairman of American Triple I Partners and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Development added, “Cities and metropolitan areas are the true engines of American prosperity and generate most of the economic output and most of the jobs. The Aspen Institute Latinos and Society’s new initiative focused on Latino communities will help build the local capacity of local leaders and organizations in some of the regions hardest hit by COVID.  Accelerating the economic recovery of Latino communities and businesses is critical for the country as a whole. I applaud the Aspen Institute for leveraging its convening power to attract resources and public-private investments to ensure all Americans have a real shot at an equitable recovery.  I am delighted to sponsor San Antonio to be included in this place-based effort with national impact.” 

Looking ahead, Christopher Gergen, CEO Forward Impact and Aspen Henry Crown Fellow expressed the hope that the City Learning and Action Lab will become a model not only for Latino-majority business communities, but for all business communities across the nation.

“Through this unique initiative, participating cities will maximize opportunities for shared learning, advance specific coordinated local actions and connect with funders and policymakers to accelerate the recovery and long-term growth of their Latino small business economy,” said Gergen.  “This not only represents a tremendous opportunity for the inaugural cohort but could be a model for how cities nationally work to strengthen their local Latino small business support systems and connect with a growing number of communities, policymakers, philanthropists, and investors committed to the same.” 

For more information, please visit, or follow on Twitter and Facebook at @AspenLatinos.