Highest ranking Muslim in the U.S. visits Utah to help small businesses

Apr 17, 2024, 10:50 PM | Updated: Apr 18, 2024, 12:52 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — It’s never been a better time for small businesses here in Utah and that’s the kind of momentum some of the top leaders in the United States are hoping to build on.

In his first official visit to the Beehive State Tuesday, Dilawar Syed, deputy administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, met with various groups to discuss his plans for Utah’s future.

In a small crowd gathered at the World Trade Center, Syed met with members of Utah’s Muslim community, some of whom are business owners.

Avais Ahmed with the Utah Muslim Civic League started his own business 15 years ago.

“It’s a real personal story for me,” Ahmed said.

There are 60,000 Muslims in Utah from more than 122 different countries, Ahmed said. And helping them start a business is complicated.

“When folks move in, they don’t have trust in the system,” Ahmed said.

Navigating a new country and all the problems that come with that is a feat in itself, but then starting a business, Ahmed said creates its own set of problems.

Yet, it’s not impossible.

Syed believes Utah has the right environment and resources for start-up businesses.

Utah has 334,000 small businesses, meaning 45% of the state is employed by a small business.

“We have to build on it,” Syed said. “We also have to make sure that we are truly democratizing access to those loans to all entrepreneurs: to women, veterans, black and brown entrepreneurs.”

Syed is an entrepreneur turned public servant, confirmed to his role in the SBA in 2023.

His visit was not just significant for economic opportunities within the state, but Syed also came as a role model.

“To see somebody from our background get to that level, he’s an inspiration to our community,” Ahmed said.  Syed serves as the highest-ranking Muslim in the United States, a responsibility he says he feels.

“I’m humbled by that,” Syed said. “It is also a burden to make sure that we are reflecting on the aspirations of all of our communities and making sure that these resources are reaching all our communities.”

Syed has always felt strongly about serving his community in any capacity, whether in the SBA or on a more local level.

“You don’t have to wait to arrive at some point to say, ‘I’m going to give back,’” Syed said. “My model has been given as you go.”

That was, in part, his goal in Utah — to give access to opportunities for small businesses.

“When we provide them trusted partners and events like this, they can see that they’re in good hands,” Ahmed said. “There’s mentorship, and there’s resources for their journey.”

Syed’s goals include creating opportunities for more small-dollar business loans and increasing awareness of the resources out there.

He returned to Washington Thursday morning.

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Highest ranking Muslim in the U.S. visits Utah to help small businesses