This year's Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (FSHCC) Conference was a regional event with national impact. Held January 22–23 and attracting 800 attendees, it marked the announcement of a series of 15 regional seminars organized through the cooperation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Administration (SBA), and the newly formed National Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce.
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|At the gala dinner, leaders signed an agreement to give Hispanic companies access to SBA and U.S. Chamber programs.|
From left: Al Piña, TELACU; Julian Canete, California Hispanic Chambers; Juan Ochoa, Illinois Hispanic Chamber; David Lizárraga, Coalition of Hispanic Chambers; Alex Romero, New Mexico Hispanic Chamber; Frank Garcia, Bronx Hispanic Chamber; Julio Fuentes, Florida State Hispanic Chamber; Paul Martinez, Florida State Hispanic Chamber; and Roberto de Posada, Latino Coalition.
Julio Fuentes, president of the host chamber, opened the conference by announcing an initiative to facilitate $100 million in loans to Florida's Hispanic companies. "Both state and local chambers of commerce throughout the state hear the cries of individuals with great credit and excellent business plans, but for whatever reason can't secure a loan," said Mr. Fuentes. Calixto Garcia-Velez, president of Citibank Florida, pledged the bank's commitment to the program.
"We have a vision for small businesses to partner with the SBA to show our support of the new Hispanic chambers," said David Lizárraga, chairman of the Coalition of Hispanic Chambers and CEO of the California-based nonprofit TELACU. "We have state chambers from all over the U.S. coming together to form a plan to aggressively make this opportunity for growth. The task is great, but the opportunity is greater."
The coalition helped organize the Florida conference as a prototype of regional and state events (see "Gonzales and Lizárraga Speak Out," January/February) in the future. Al Piña, a senior executive with TELACU, served as acting CEO of the FSHCC through a special arrangement with the coalition to develop programs, recruit sponsors, and provide logistical support. As a result, Citibank, Ford, the SBA, Gateway, Bank of America, and State Farm Bank had a presence at the conference.
Mr. Piña, who led the lending initiative, said he hopes to develop a $150 million small-business investment company that will invest in Hispanic small businesses in the state.
The capital-access panel discussion featured representatives from nationwide investment companies with combined funds of more than $1 billion targeted toward Hispanic and minority enterprises. "We recognize that without that capital, we can't make things happen," said Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, a Texas Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who attended the first day of the conference.
Behind the scenes, the event brought together leaders of the emerging Coalition of Hispanic Chambers. Mr. Lizárraga defines the coalition's agenda as threefold: to organize a national agenda among state Hispanic chambers, to spur reform within the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), and to open a dialogue with the USHCC to be more pro-active with its constituents. He reiterated support for the USHCC while expressing the need for reforms in its processes and its focus. "We're not going against the USHCC, but we need an umbrella organization that works with us to achieve our results at the state and local levels," said Alex Romero (representing the New Mexico Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) in explaining the coalition's purpose.
After the signing ceremony, SBA Administrator Hector Barreto delivered a speech via videotape on the growing Hispanic economy nationwide.