By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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ROCKFORD — When Mustafa Abdall came here from Baghdad 14 years ago he was cheated out $50 while buying a SIM card for his mobile phone.
The seller had convinced him he couldn’t get the card without a social security number, but offered to get him one anyway for the extra $50. Abdall found out later the seller’s claim wasn’t true.
The experience taught him a lesson that led him on the path to what he’s doing today: Helping immigrants, refugees and anyone else navigate all they need to know about starting a business or launching their professional career here.
“I told my wife, I speak English and I have experience … and they cheated me by $50. What will they do with the other guys who speak zero English and don’t have any experience? This should not happen,” he said. “So that’s how I started my journey.”
Abdall is now the executive director of the Solutions Business Center, a one-stop shop for business services at 4437 E. State St., which is at the corner of State and Alpine Road.
The center houses Rockford Management Services for business payroll and business and personal tax services. It’s also home to the nonprofit Winnebago Emerging Small Business Services, which helps startups and small businesses working to grow. It has a public notary, a Small Business Development Corporation representative, accounting, language and interpreting services, money transferring, shipping, real estate and insurance services and is home to Rockford Today Network, which supports refugees and other newcomers.
“The plan was to have everything under one roof,” Abdall said.
Now, the center is preparing to add more services. Next up is the addition of the Rockford Arab Chamber of Commerce, which he said could represent more than 280 businesses, and the Southern Asian Chamber of Commerce.
Abdall started the business center with a mind to help immigrants like him, but it now aids any entrepreneur who needs its resources.
“Whoever needs help: Come here regardless of your language or your background,” he said.
Abdall, who speaks English, Arabic, Russian, Kurdish, Turkish and Malay, is a former family support specialist, bilingual tutor and English as a second language teacher at Rockford Public Schools.
He has built a reputation in the community for years for his efforts to support immigrants and refugees. That work earned him a nomination in 2020 for the Rockford Register Star’s Excalibur Award for community service. He was also featured in the “Our City, Our Story” series in a piece titled “Community Brother.”
It’s common to see him helping organize community events, or just posting selfies with other civic leaders as he promotes important activities happening around town.
Abdall is also a partner in the downtown restaurant Guzel, which means beautiful in Turkish. He and his business partner Moe Allen acquired the former Ronit’s Kitchen at Indoor City Market, 116 N. Madison St., in October 2020.
He is also a Rockford Township trustee and has the distinction of being the first Arab-American elected to that role.
The Solutions Business Center, which opened about a year ago and employs five people, is in many ways an extension of work he’s been doing for years.
“What I’m doing now, I was doing the same in my house,” he said. “All the traffic, all the clients, they were coming to my house morning, evening, night.”
Fast facts | Solutions Business Center
Where: 4437 E. State St., Rockford
On the web: solutionsbusinesscenter.com