News Column

Latino Chamber Formed in Skagit County

May 2, 2012

Mark Stayton

The entrepreneurial spirit knows no culture and no bounds. Neither does the almighty dollar.

"Money is only one color: green," said Gustavo Ramos Jr., at the first meeting of the Skagit County Latino Chamber of Commerce, held last week in an empty store space at Cascade Mall.

About 50 people, including four political candidates, the director of the Economic Development Association of Skagit County, and local business owners, filled the empty store space for the first meeting organized by Ramos.

Looking to provide Skagit County Latino businesses with the resources they need to be successful, Gustavo recently organized the Skagit chamber, which is a new charter of the Northwest Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, located in Ferndale.

Ramos, who also is executive director of the Housing Authority of Skagit County, said the chamber won't cater exclusively to Latino businesses. Anyone looking to connect with Latino businesses or those that have large numbers of Latino employees are encouraged to join.

The chamber also will serve as a liaison between Latino businesses and local government, which will be especially important to mobile food vendors facing new regulations and fees in Mount Vernon, Burlington and Anacortes, Ramos said.

As part of his inspiration for organizing the chamber, Ramos shared the story of the first entrepreneur he ever met: his father.

Born in Mexico, Gustavo Ramos Sr. worked picking cotton in blistering Texas heat before moving his family to work on a farm in California.

Ramos said one of his father's duties was to clean out horse stalls.

It was there that his dad found a unique business opportunity in what many people consider waste. He traded the family's Chrysler for a pickup truck and hauled horse manure north to sell as fertilizer for citrus growers.

"Many people come from Mexico with that entrepreneurial spirit," Ramos said. "They can do anything, as long as they have an equal playing field."

Carlos Carreon, manager of Mexican restaurant Calle and a newly sworn-in chamber board member, said the Latino business community has been shy about connecting with established chambers of commerce in the area. A Latino chamber would help Latino-owned businesses reach new customers and supporters in the larger community, Carreon said.

One such supporter is Taylor Long, property manager of Cascade Mall, who donated the space for last week's meeting. He said he plans to join the chamber as a way to attract Latino businesses to the mall's open shop spaces.

Long cited the U.S. Census, which shows Mount Vernon and Burlington populations are now approximately 32 percent Latino, compared with 17 percent in the rest of the county.

Having Latino businesses at the mall would help bring in new shoppers, he said.

Ricardo Sanchez, a former owner of a butcher's shop and grocery store, came to the chamber meeting to see if he wanted to join.

He is thinking about opening a taco truck in Bellingham and wanted to network with other business owners for help with budgets and marketing.

"An organization like this is very important for the community, where you can meet other business owners and get the help you need to get your business going," Sanchez said.

Ramos is setting up the central office for the Latino Chamber of Commerce at 602 South First St. in downtown Mount Vernon and is looking for new members. Ramos said regular board meetings will begin in May, when member dues and meeting times will be decided. He can be reached at 360-588-4647, or gramos@comcast.net.



Source: (c)2012 the Skagit Valley Herald (Mount Vernon, Wash.)


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