December 12, 2016 –
Reading, Pa. – A group of friends and family gather at a non-descript storefront at the north end of Reading to celebrate the holidays. There are half dozen platters of Pernil (Puerto Rican style roasted pork shoulder), rice, beans, potato salad, pie and plenty of soft drinks.
“I spent the first five years of my career on active duty but the flexibility of serving in the Army Reserve made it possible for me to continue serving the Army while growing my business,” said Sgt. Manuel Palaguachi, a supply sergeant assigned to the 365th Engineer Battalion, Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania. “The experience and knowledge I gained serving in Iraq and Afghanistan has helped me to start and run my business.”
It wasn’t easy at first. Uptown Limo began as a modest operation with four vehicles that has grown to a fleet of 30 and employs 33 yet his military experience and entrepreneurial instinct told him he needed to ask for help.
Kutztown University’s Small Business Development Center and the Berks County Community Foundation have a program, called Jumpstart Incubator that helps local entrepreneurs with difficult requirements like federal compliance regulations and financial forecasting.
Palaguachi, who worked as a dishwasher in Brooklyn, New York for several years after immigrating to the United States from Ecuador, earnestly saved his money from his overseas deployments to have enough working capital to establish Uptown Limo & Car Service.
“The thing that sets him and other veteran-owned businesses apart is how they react to stress. Manny stays calm, leans on his team, and works through it,” said Colin Waszkiewicz, a Reading Public Library board member, financial consultant, Iraq Veteran and friend of Palaguachi’s.
While enjoying a plate of pernil, rice and beans at the Uptown Limo Holiday party, Waszkiewicz explains how in a predominately Latino community, it’s important for him to be here. “As a Latino Army Reservist, he sets an example for his community, especially in a place like Reading that has gone through so many tough economic challenges.”
Between serving his guests and employees plates of food, Palaguachi is signing trip tickets, answering phone calls, responding to emails and dispatching requests for drivers.
“This is a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a-year business,” said Palaguachi. “There’s always something that has to get done.”
Palaguachi’s Army Reserve unit also notices his tenacious work ethic.
“He motivates our younger Soldiers because he is an example of someone who can do both,” said Cpt. Troy M. Froistad, Commanding Officer of the 365th Engineer Headquarters Company. “He balances the Reserves and being a successful business owner. The multiple deployments has helped him put stress in perspective and the rigidity of a full day of training has helped him manage his time.”
Palaguachi turned his Army training into an education in entrepreneurship; he established a plan, set a schedule, and was flexible when change occurred. He believes in protocols.
“In my business we conduct drivers training, we do weekly and monthly inspections, we keep track of miles, job orders, and ensure the vehicles are not only running well but are kept clean. My drivers also have a uniform of shirt, tie, and jacket,” said Palaguachi.
Before a convoy of trucks leaves the motor pool in Iraq and Afghanistan, the driver conducts an inspection, checks fluids, tire pressure, ensuring there aren’t any major malfunctions. It’s not so different in the taxi business.