Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and self-employed people are a significant part of Florida’s economy, as the American Immigrant Council reports. Over 50% of businesses in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach metro area are immigrant-owned. Foreign-born people own one in five businesses in the Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, and Jacksonville areas. Roughly one-third of self-employed people in Florida are also immigrants.
Florida’s pro-business policies, incentives, and financing opportunities undoubtedly contribute to the success of business owners in the state. Understanding these different state-sponsored programs may help you determine the best way to start a business for yourself in Florida.
What businesses are popular for immigrants in Florida?
In Florida, approximately 82% of manicurists and pedicurists are foreign-born, and many work at salons owned by immigrants. In addition, immigrants frequently start up taxi services—with the same data showing that nearly 60% of all drivers in the state are foreign-born. Almost 66% of roofers are immigrants too, and a portion of these workers are in business for themselves.
While these are only a few of the more prominent fields Florida immigrants start companies within, there are many other industries entrepreneurs can consider for new business ideas.
How to get business incentives and financing in Florida
Immigrants in Florida can take advantage of specialized financing or loan programs, financial incentives, and grants, including some of the ones listed below, to help get your business off the ground.
Black immigrants in Florida may receive funding through the Black Business Loan Program (BBLP) administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO). The program offers direct loans to some qualified entrepreneurs and business owners.
In addition, the DEO will act as the guarantor for some loans for Black-owned businesses issued by financial institutions in Florida. In some cases, the DEO will even directly invest in businesses to provide ongoing capital in return for an ownership stake in the company.
A private-public partnership, Enterprise Florida seeks to expand access to traditional financing for small businesses.
Through its State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), the partnership provides capital to financial institutions, so that banks can extend loans to small business owners that may otherwise not qualify. Loans issued through the initiative are only available to businesses with 500 employees or fewer.
Also administered through Enterprise Florida, the Florida Microfinance Guarantee Program strengthens the loan applications of small business owners.
Through the program, Enterprise Florida serves as the guarantor for loans for small businesses that have 25 or fewer employees and gross revenue of $1.5 million or less for the last two years.
The backing of Enterprise Florida makes it possible for immigrants and other entrepreneurs to qualify for financing from Florida banks.
Founded in 1954, the Florida Credit Union is a member-owned financial institution known for providing business loans for immigrants and other small business owners.
Entrepreneurs can apply for installment loans and lines of credit with and without U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) backing. The financial institution also offers business car, truck, and van loans and loan programs for equipment and machinery.
For immigrants looking for ways to fund a small business and who have struggled to qualify for traditional loans, LiftFund Florida may be a solution. This program provides traditional small business loans and smaller micro loans to startups and existing businesses in Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando, and Tampa.
Immigrant entrepreneurs and business owners can apply for loans ranging from $500 to $1 million to cover a variety of costs. The lending guidelines are relaxed to expand access to financing.
Immigrants who choose to establish job-creating businesses in areas of Florida classified as Qualified Opportunity Zones may receive some tax deferments and reductions for a certain number of years.
The money saved can then be reinvested to grow a startup or established business. There are over 420 such zones in the state, and each county is home to at least one.
The Florida legislature has established 36 rural areas and 13 urban areas as communities that have a large need for additional employment.
Immigrants who establish job-creating small businesses in any of these locations may qualify for a $500 to $2000 credit for the Florida Corporate Income Tax or the Florida Sales and Use Tax per employee.
The Targeted Marketing Assistance Program sponsored by VisitFlorida provides grants for immigrant-owned businesses and other businesses in the tourism industry. Qualified businesses can receive up to $5,000 to cover the cost of marketing campaigns that seek to attract visitors to Florida.
The money issued through these grants does not need to be repaid. However, small business owners must match the amount given by VisitFlorida dollar-for-dollar. For example, if a business receives a grant of $250, they must also spend $250 of their own money to fund the marketing campaign.
How to get business licenses, certificates, and permits in Florida
Before opening a business in Florida, entrepreneurs must obtain the licenses, certificates, and permits required by the state, county, and local governments. Rules vary based on industry and location, but the following are some possible requirements you may need to start a business in this state.
Tax licenses and registration
In Florida, business owners may need to register with various government agencies to pay state and local taxes and collect them from customers:
- Sales and use tax: Assessed to customers who purchase certain tangible goods
- Reemployment tax: Helps fund the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund for unemployed individuals
- Other state business taxes: These taxes are usually industry-specific and include things like the Florida fuel tax that gas stations must collect from customers and pass on to the state.
- The Florida Department of Revenue can advise you on what taxes your business needs to collect.
- County business tax: Most counties in Florida require businesses to apply for an occupational license and pay local business tax.
- Contact the tax collector for your county for more information.
- City business tax: Immigrant-owned businesses in certain metro areas may need to pay an additional local business tax to legally operate within the city limits.
- City government offices can provide you with additional information regarding tax rates and registration requirements.
Business and professional licenses
A license is necessary to open a business within many industries in Florida. Depending on your line of business, you may have to obtain one or more licenses from one of the following state licensing agencies:
- Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR): Provides licensing for architects, auctioneers, barbers, cosmetologists, interior designers, and many other service businesses.
- Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS): Handles licensing for pest control businesses, private investigators, recovery and repossession businesses, and several other industries.
- Department of Health: Issues licenses for medical professionals as well as massage therapists and tattoo parlors.
- Agency for Healthcare Administration: Serves as the licensing agency for home health care agencies, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.
- Department of Children and Families: Responsible for daycare facility licenses.
- Department of Financial Services: Administers the licensing program for insurance agents and insurance agencies.
Florida’s list of professional licensing requirements is a good starting point for determining which licenses your business needs.
Local governments may require immigrant-owned businesses to obtain permits beyond professional or business licensing if they want to provide certain services to the public. Examples include food truck permits, ground transportation service permits, and zoning permits.
The state recommends contacting the county tax collector for your local area to learn about what types of permits you will need to apply for before opening your company.
Other types of business support in Florida
Entrepreneurs and small business owners in Florida can get advice, find networking opportunities, and seek support from a number of organizations and entities in the state, including those listed below.
Chambers of commerce
Chambers of commerce are organizations that bring together business owners across all industries for networking, education and training, lobbying, and other initiatives.
Industry-specific trade associations
These organizations are open to business owners who work in a specific industry, such as construction or food service.
Trade associations often lobby state and local lawmakers on behalf of their members. They may also provide educational programs and networking opportunities.
Ethnic trade associations
Immigrant business owners who are members of minority groups can join trade associations for specific ethnic groups, such as the First Coast Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or Gainesville Black Professionals.
Like trade associations, these organizations usually engage in lobbying and offer educational opportunities, networking events, and business support programs.
This state website offers a complete guide to opening a business in Florida as well as other resources that may be beneficial for immigrant entrepreneurs.
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), Florida colleges and universities, and a number of for-profit and nonprofit regional partners work together to provide services through the SBDC Network.
Small business owners can obtain advice, mentoring, education, and other services through the network.
This nonprofit organization collaborates with the SBA to provide free one-on-one business counseling to female business owners. In addition, it provides workshop and training opportunities for women.
To find even more trade associations and organizations for business owners in your area, you can also do an internet search or use a site like CauseIQ.