Spokane Journal of Business

AHANA group’s mission revived during pandemic

Multiethnic business group partners with SBA, receives $1M grant

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-—Karina Elias
Marvo Reguidin became executive director of AHANA when the organization was restarted in the late 2010s, after being dormant for about a decade.

Marvo Reguindin, executive director of multiethnic business and professional association known as AHANA, says a recent $1 million grant from Spokane County will help the organization expand its space, staff, and service capacities.

The grant comes on the heels of the organization’s recent signing of a strategic alliance memorandum in partnership with the city of Spokane and the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Spokane branch.

The memorandum is a commitment by the three entities to work together to resolve issues related to accessibility, equity, and inclusion of multiethnic small businesses and entrepreneurs in Spokane, says Reguindin.

The grant comes from the American Rescue Plan Act fund, of which the county is expected to receive approximately $101 million over the next several years. 

Reguindin says AHANA likely will use some of the grant funds to move to a larger space and employ support staff, although he adds that he doesn’t yet know how and when the funds will be dispersed.

AHANA currently works with four independent contractors and has an annual budget of about $150,000. Located at 101 W. Cataldo, on the periphery of downtown Spokane, AHANA occupies a 600-square-foot space that it shares with ASAP Translation Services LLC and Reguindin’s business, Thinking Cap Communications & Design Inc.

In addition to expanding its staff and space, AHANA will focus on three facets: business educational programming and workshops for people from various racial and ethnic backgrounds; advocacy work to break down barriers of systemic racism and encourage diversity, equity, and inclusion; and services to the community.

Reguindin, who is Filipino, notes that while AHANA’s acronym stands for four distinct groups, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, there are many other ethnic communities within Spokane that the organization serves, such as the Marshallese community and people from Myanmar.

AHANA was formed in 1998 by Ben Cabildo, who is also Filipino, to give businesses owned by people from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds a safe space to talk about business and learn from one another about how to expand and succeed, says Reguindin.

“Back then, Eastern Washington was a much more conservative place than it is now,” he says.

AHANA was active for about eight years, but it ran out of funds and went into hiatus for nearly a decade. In 2018, Reguindin retired from leading the Inland Northwest Business Alliance—Spokane’s LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce—and worked with Cabildo to restart AHANA. The organization began to regain momentum after the onset of the 2020 pandemic when it won contracts through the Washington state Department of Commerce to help businesses owned by people with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds survive pandemic-induced lockdowns and business restrictions.

Reguindin says Commerce wanted to ensure multiethnic businesses weren’t excluded from economic stimulus and recovery efforts.

“We got contracted to work as trusted messengers to the community,” he says.

Through a series of grants, AHANA worked to educate and assist the multiethnic business community about Payment Protection Program loans and other federal coronavirus relief measures.

During this time, Reguindin learned that many small businesses weren’t functioning properly. To qualify for a PPP loan, a business needed to provide the previous three years’ tax records, something several businesses were missing. He also was alarmed to learn many businesses were licensed as sole proprietors, which leaves owners open to personal liability.

“If you ran into a problem and someone wanted to sue you, they can take everything you own as a sole proprietor,” he advises clients.

Sometimes, people start a business quickly just to put food on the table but don’t organize it correctly, says Reguindin.

“They also need to work on the business and ask questions like: ‘How do I make this business profitable enough for me to be comfortable and pay my employees and buy equipment?’” he says.

Although DEI campaigns have become accepted widely, years of systemic racism haven’t allowed these communities to be on a level playing field, Reguindin says.

“People think that because of DEI, everybody is at the same level,” he explains. “If you think of it as a race around a track, we are not starting at the same start line.”

Reguindin notes that at the same time Cabildo formed AHANA, Initiative 200 passed in Washington state that sought to prohibit racial and gender preferences by state and local governments.

The way I-200 was written, it was a discriminatory piece of legislation, he contends. Since that initiative was put into place 24 years ago, it has crippled the multiethnic businesses that were getting state contracts, Reguindin adds.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order to rescind the directive and allow for state agencies and government to introduce more equitable practices in contracting with people from historically marginalized racial and ethnic backgrounds, women, and other disadvantaged groups.

However, Reguindin says there is still a lot of work to do, specifically when it comes to helping multiethnic businesses win state and city contracts. He points to the language within state contracts that sometimes calls for 10 years of working as a contractor as a prerequisite.

“How?” says Reguindin. “We’ve never gotten the contracts because there was a barrier in place for us.”

Other aspects of contract work that Reguindin says can be more equitable include breaking down large contracts into smaller pieces to allow for other businesses to compete for those projects.

“When you unbundle those, then multiethnic businesses have a better chance of grabbing part of those contracts,” he says.

When AHANA was formed, unfair business lending practices also were prevalent, he adds.

Loans to diverse racial and ethnic businesses tended to have smaller amounts, higher interest rates, and shorter terms for repayment, he explains.

“There is no generational wealth that allows a small business owner to start a small business and get going,” says Reguindin. “They most likely started their own business by self-funding, using their own bank account versus going to the bank.”

This history of unfair lending practices has caused many people of color to continue to distrust financial institutions, he adds.

The lack of trust also extends itself to other institutions, such as the SBA, notes Reguindin, who was surprised to hear from some businesses that they assumed the SBA was only for white businesses.

The SBA wants to correct that perception.

Joel Nania, manager for the Spokane SBA office, was first to approach Reguindin to create a strategic alliance memorandum with the city and the SBA.

“The SBA is here to help everybody,” says Nania.

Nania says that Mike Fong, Spokane native and the Pacific Northwest regional administrator for SBA has made DEI work a top priority for the next several years.

“The (memorandum) has certainly directed our attention to multiethnic businesses,” says Nania. “Now, the real work starts.”

Karina Elias
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Reporter Karina Elias covers the banking and finance industry. A California native, she attended the University of California at Santa Barbara. Karina loves salsa dancing, traveling, baking, cuddling with her dog, and writing creative fiction and non-fiction.  

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