Inside Track: Jose builds a beautiful life

Business development director for Michigan Women Forward has blazed her own path since coming to the U.S.
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Ana Jose plans to help 200 to 250 entrepreneurs in the next two years as part of her role at Michigan Women Forward. Courtesy Michigan Women Forward

Since moving to West Michigan 30 years ago, Ana Jose has been driven by a strong desire to lift up herself, her family and everyone around her — and her work is coming to fruition.

Jose, who is Afro Latina, was born in the Dominican Republic, where she was raised by her mother and grandmother until she and her middle brother, Junior, followed her father to the U.S. when she was 17.

She said her early years were marked by want — with limited access to food, electricity, schooling and nurturing — but her godfather encouraged her to pursue an education as much as she could.

“My godfather always told me, ‘Ana, the only thing that’s going to give you what you need or want out of life is going to school, preparing yourself, being honest and trying to help people.’ So even at night, when we didn’t have light, I used to have a little piece of candle, and I used to read my books, because I really wanted to go to school. I wanted to do something with my life, and that’s what kept me going,” she said.

“…It was difficult, but at the same time, I feel that I’m to the point in my life that I would not change my childhood for anything, because I learned the value of caring for my family, caring for the people who are around me. And I think that’s what developed that sense of not giving up on other people. … To me, it’s so important not to give up. If there’s a way of me making something work, that’s what I want to do, because I know the importance of having someone who believes in you and who wants to help you get to that next level.”

After her dad obtained U.S. residency papers for Jose and her brother, they moved to the Bronx, New York, to live with their father and stepmother for a time. Although she had already graduated high school in the Dominican Republic, she continued attending school in the Bronx because she still was only 17. The living situation with her parents wasn’t ideal, so after about a year-and-a-half — during which time she was earning $300 a month for getting good grades in school and working a part-time job at the Bronx Zoo — she was able to buy a one-bedroom apartment for her and her brother, while sending some of the money she made back home to her mother.

Jose soon grew tired of living in New York and followed her aunt to Grand Rapids in the early ’90s.

“As soon as I came, I fell in love with the city. It was quiet, as if I was back home, and I was like, ‘You know what? This is an amazing place. There are no tall buildings, you can sit outside, and nobody is bothering you, and you’re not bothering anybody.’ I wanted to stay here and make a life for myself,” she said.

Her first job in Grand Rapids was as a team leader at McDonald’s, then she landed a position as a bank teller at Old Kent Bank (now Fifth Third), where she worked her way up to the role of bilingual mortgage loan officer.

ANA JOSE

Organization: Michigan Women Forward
Position: Director of business development
Birthplace: Ingenio Consuelo, San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic
Residence: Kentwood
Family: Mom, Marina Mills; dad, Antonio Jose; husband, Eduard R. Marmol Espinal; five children: Elizabeth, 27; Teddy, 25; Bryan, 23; Alondra, 21; and Jaden, 11
Business/community involvement: Real estate owner/landlord, secretary of the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan, treasurer of the Latina Network of West Michigan, chair of Community Collaboration on Climate Change (C4), advisory group member of The Equitable, Healthy Zero Carbon Building Initiative (E.H.Zero)
Biggest career break: “My biggest career break has been to be given an opportunity to work with an organization like MWF that really focuses on creating a network of like-minded women who believe in empowering, supporting and celebrating Michigan women.”

After she had been in the U.S. for five years and obtained citizenship, she petitioned to bring her mother to Grand Rapids and was able to do so. Her middle brother also moved here about 15 to 20 years ago from New York, then she was able to bring her older brother here from the Dominican Republic about eight years ago. She met her now-husband, Eduard, through her older brother when he was still in the DR. She said she was instantly taken with him after he invited her to his home and cooked a nice meal for her — something she hadn’t experienced in her first marriage. They wed 16 years ago and have a blended family of which Jose said she is “super proud.”

Jose said she always has had an entrepreneurial bent, dating back to her school days, when she and her friends would stage events to earn money, and she would lend people funds from the money she made.

“It was instilled in me. Even my mom, although she didn’t have a high level of education, she was always figuring out a way of supporting her kids and her family. She used to buy a set of sheets and then raffle it in the neighborhood, so that way she could have money, and she used to wash people’s clothing, and I used to remind her, ‘Mom, you have to wash this person’s clothes and this person’s,’ and keep track of it and help her out that way. And sometimes, I used to go with her and help her, too. So, I was always thinking how I could make things work,” Jose said. “When I was in high school in New York, one of my (teachers) there was like, ‘Ana, business comes to you so easily that you definitely need to have a career in business.’”

Jose earned general education credits at Grand Rapids Community College before obtaining B.S. and M.B.A. degrees in business from Cornerstone University in 2011 and 2015.

Alongside her interest in entrepreneurship, Jose also has a thirst for real estate investment and in the 2000s started buying up investment properties across Grand Rapids that she fixed up and rented out.

With her passion for helping others in the community to obtain generational wealth, it also made sense to her to say ‘Yes’ when a friend asked if she would be interested in helping to start a mortgage company. She said at the time, she was the first Afro Latina in Michigan to obtain a license to open a mortgage brokerage, and she served as its president until the housing bubble burst in 2008 and she had to close it down.

At that time, she owned 58 properties in greater Grand Rapids, and she lost many of those properties to foreclosure, setting her back by about $1.7 million.

True to her philosophy of not giving up, Jose bounced back from her losses. She since has built back her real estate portfolio to around 20 properties, which she renovates and rents out with the help of her husband. She got a job as a career development specialist at the Gerald R. Ford Job Corps Center in Grand Rapids in 2008 and worked there until 2013. She then held recruiting roles at Arbor Circle and Bethany Christian Services until 2018.

Then, she heard about the opening for a program manager at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where she built the Transformando West Michigan program on which the Business Journal has reported many times. Transformando helps small, Latinx-owned businesses in the Grand Rapids area. Jose said she felt teaching entrepreneurs — many of whom are first-generation Americans — how to grow their businesses was her biggest accomplishment at the chamber, and she carries the connections, friendships and social capital she made there with her into the present.

Last fall, Jose’s friend Raquel (Salas) Guzman, founding partner and managing member of Avanti Law Group, tipped her off about a job opening at Michigan Women Forward’s Grand Rapids office, and she went for it. During the interview process, Jose said she “fell in love” with MWF, its president and CEO, Carolyn Cassin, and its chief lending officer, Alexis Dishman.

She was hired as director of business development in November, a role that was created to help expand MWF’s mission of loan growth and coaching of entrepreneurs in West Michigan. Jose said she is “super excited” about the work she has been able to do so far — MWF has closed 58 loans so far this year — especially as pertains to creating a more inclusive economy with the full participation of women and minorities.

She said MWF:

  • Builds women up and celebrates their contributions to their community and to Michigan.
  • Targets small businesses needing capital to spark initial business moves or drive new strategic change in their business.
  • Provides businesses with the capital they need to grow and prepares them to secure funding from more traditional sources of capital.
  • Creates a dedicated source of capital for entrepreneurs who cannot obtain access to traditional funding, while providing resources to entrepreneurs to be successful in business.

Her goal for the next two years is for MWF to impact between 200 and 250 entrepreneurs.

But Jose said her fondest wish is for people to stay true to themselves and look around to see who they can help.

“I want people to continue to be kind to one another, not to see each other as a competition, but to (say), ‘How can I lift you up so that way you can keep growing and moving forward?’ I want people to know that business is important, but collective work is just as important. I want people to really understand the value of understanding your business and surrounding yourself with people that are going to go ahead and help you move forward in your career.”

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