After two years of internal struggle, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is enjoying a new-found solidarity with a newly elected CEO and a newly elected chairman. "The message I ask you to take back to your chambers and corporations is that this is a new day at the USHCC," Armando Ojeda, the organization's CEO, announced at the group's 25th anniversary convention in Austin, Texas, in September.
The new leadership marks a second chance for the organization, which in recent years saw the departure of CEO George Herrera, the resignation of J.R. Gonzales as chairman to take over as acting CEO, and finally the selection of Mr. Ojeda, and newly elected Chairman David Lizarraga. But the new team confronts familiar obstacles to business development: corporate and federal procurement, political advocacy, and access to capital.
Mr. Lizarraga ranks procurement as the biggest issue. "We have to work with our corporate partners and Corporate America, but also hold them accountable in how they deliver opportunities and extend themselves," he says. "Of course, a partnership goes both ways. We also have to provide supportive services to make that possible."
The USHCC Procurement Council is developing a database of the chamber's member companies and their capabilities. Once the system is built, corporate buyers can find Hispanic suppliers and the USHCC can facilitate a match. On the government side, Frank Rivera, the new USHCC vice-chairman, says the council will start by looking at the 10 largest federal agencies' purchasing to assess whether they are unbundling contracts to include small business.
For his part, Mr. Lizarraga sees progress on federal procurement occurring in tandem with raising the USHCC's political profile. He envisions formulating a bipartisan national Hispanic economic agenda starting at the local-chamber level. To fully leverage Hispanic power, the local, state, and national chambers should have a consistent message, similar to the way political parties operate. "If we can generate 200,000 letters to Congress, we'll prove that we can show up in big numbers and we're a premium demographic that they need to pay attention to," Mr. Ojeda notes.
The new leadership also plans to organize a private equity fund to reach the middle market. "Through Hispania, we have access to capital for very large, growing organizations," Mr. Lizarraga explains. "But we also need to establish a fund that reaches to $3 [million] to $5 [million] to $10 million needs. … We're talking about the capital needs to get to the next step up." Story continued below …
Despite a raft of new leaders at the USHCC, two key professionals – counsel Tom Stahl and CFO George Lasnier – remain firmly in place from the previous administration. Mr. Stahl, the organization' attorney for its entire 25-year history, ran the elections again at this year' convention, just as he did two years ago amid protests over the legitimacy of the process.
"I think the process was there before – nobody hid anything," Mr. Stahl tells Hispanic Business. "But I think communication has improved."
In weathering the USHCC leadership change, Mr. Stahl retains a valuable client.
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