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Chaldean Community Council Opens Incubator Business Center in El Cajon
By Miriam Raftery
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Opening an incubator business center to help refugees and immigrants start new businesses has been a dream of Dr. Noori Barka for more than a decade. On April 11, that dream came to fruition at a ceremony launching the Chaldean Community Council's new incubator business center at 405 East Lexington Avenue in El Cajon. The center will provide help for low-income and underserved refugee communities.

Supervisor Joel Anderson called the occasion a "joyous day" as he presented a check for a half million dollars from the County to the Chaldean Community Council to kickstart the incubator business center. He also issued a proclamation declarring April 11 El Cajon Small Business Incubator Day. Funding was through the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the Small Business Stimulus Grant program, and the County's Community Enhancement program.

"For years, I've said we need an incubator to kick start businesses," the Supervisor said. "In East County, we've got enterpreneurial spirit to be tapped," he added, predicting that the enterprise will produce new entrepreneurs, "bringing wealth and opportunities to East County."

He praised El Cajon Mayor Bill Wells after the city agreed to lease office space for the incubator business center for just a dollar a year, over the next five years.

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Mayor Wells said working together with the County was a "great partnership." He added, "I'm thankful that the Chaldean community has chosen El Cajon to come and live. They are fantastic neighbors.." The Mayor said it was a "no brainer" for the city to help out after Dr. Barka proposed his idea to give new immigrants an opportunity to learn more about starting their own businesses....We have the largest group of refugees west of the Mississippi, and the (Chaldean Community) Council has done an incredible job."

Dr. Barka, president of Calbiotech and a leader in the Iraqi-Chaldean community, first announced his vision for an incubator business center back in 2014, in an interview with East County Magazine. "If you have an idea, you want to start a business...we will incubate you for up to three years and during this time we will give you the full support," he said at the time. "Start-up businesses will be given space, tools, expertise, and investors. After graduating in three years, people can receive continuing support -- provided that they launch new businesses in East County."

Barka hopes to create good-paying jobs in the biotech industry and other fields."Many of these newcomers are established business people -- they are doctors, engineers," Barka explained during the 2014 interview, adding that with some help, "They will be pioneers in helping our economy at the end of the day," he predicted.

At the April 11 event, Dr. Barka recalled the first Chaldean Festival in 2010, and thanked the city for its ongoing support at a time when many had come to the U.S. after fleeing war in Iraq."Mayor, you fed us, you cared for us, and now we're giving back. We own over 3500 businesses here. Our mission is to help the newcomers. Many reach this country with talent, but they don't know how to start."

Barka emphasizsed that the incubator business center is "not only for Chaldeans, but for everyone."

He told East County Magazine that plans for the incubator business center include taking in up to 20 businesses, providing them space and mentoring to launch their companies. "We have four or five candidates already," he disclosed. "One is an Afghan woman who wants to start a fashion business."

Vice Mayor Phil Ortiz was also present. "The City is very proud to partner with the Chaldean Council,not only to help citizens, but also this business incubator that's been a vision of Noori Barka for over 10 years."

Councilmember Michelle Metschel told East County Magazine, "I just think it's going to be great. I'm excited to see what businesses come out of the incubator businessc center;" she said, adding that the training to be provided "is also about safety", such as for people starting up food businesses.

Bishop Emmanuel Shaleta from St.Peter's Chaldean Catholic Diocese was on hand to offer a blessing at the new facility.

Kaye Turpin with the Chaldean Community Council called Barka "the Saint of El Cajon."

San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk Jordan Marks, on hand for the celebration, said the county's half-million contribution "is probably the largest check I've seen come to East County." As Supervisor Anderson presented the check to the Chaldean Community Council, Marks concluded, "You have seeded the American dream here today."

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