The Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County is growing.
The 160-member business organization gained more than 50 members in 2012 and its president, Julia Arata-Fratta, hopes to see membership double over the next three years. But the ultimate goal is to empower the Latino community and to continue to diversify Latino-owned businesses.
"Our goal is to have a strong Latino middle class in Madison and Dane County," said Arata-Fratta, a tax accountant at Wegner CPAs in Madison.
"This is the mission of the chamber. If the Latino business community succeeds, the whole community succeeds."
In 2011, according to the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, there were about 336,000 Latino residents
in Wisconsin accounting for about 6 percent of the population, an increase of 74 percent since 2000.
Latino-owned businesses in Wisconsin had $2.4 billion in sales, and the state's Latino population accounted for $6.2 billion in purchases, according to a study by the Immigration Policy Center.
Arata-Fratta, who grew up in Argentina and whose husband is a professor at UW-Madison, came to the United States in 1995 and to Madison in 2004 via Atlanta and Baton Rouge, La.
She joined the chamber in 2007, was elected president in 2010 and re-elected last month.
Q: How does the Latino Chamber of Commerce differ from other chambers of commerce in Dane County?
A: Our role is to provide programs that assist the Latino community, creating jobs and improving business practices. We try to offer those services and technical support in Espanol. Most of our clients, they have some limitation with the language and they need to go someplace where (people) can understand where they are coming from.
Q: It must be a very different experience opening a business here compared to Mexico, Nicaragua or any other country.
A: We need to teach them how to do business here in Dane County. Teach them how regulations work, the permits that they need, or refer them to a lawyer, accountant or an insurance company. Sometimes they don't plan accordingly. Some come from countries where the cycles of stability are so short that (they) live in the moment, the regulations are not tight like they are here, and there is no process of how to open a business.
Q: What are some of the primary challenges for a potential Latino business owner?
A: The challenges can be that they don't understand the industry, they don't understand the labor market, they don't have the capital to invest, they don't know the language or they don't know how to do the marketing for the business. We see it every week because we assist five to six people a week. We try to teach them how to understand how the market works.
Q: How big of a barrier is language for Latino entrepreneurs?
A: It depends. We have different types of immigrants, some are more educated than others, and they don't have any problem to speak the language. But then we have people, because they have to work and they don't have the time to learn English as a second language, for them it's hard. Overall, I would say that it's still a barrier.
Q: What kind of assistance do you offer once a business opens?
A: You can open a business but then you have to maintain that business. Our mission as a chamber is to continue to follow up with these businesses and to see they survive. We need to follow up with them and give them technical assistance so they can survive.
Q: What is the impact of Latino-owned businesses in Dane County?
A: We're in the process to determine that. We're trying to see if we can join forces with the UW-Extension and the business department to see how we can study that. I think there is a direct multiplier effect. If more Latino businesses open, they hire an employee and that employee adds to the economy.
Q: Anecdotally, what is the economic impact?
A: I think it's great. Nationally, according to the U.S. Economic Census, Latino businesses are growing at double the rate of the national average. If we can extrapolate that to Madison and Dane County, we can see a market that is growing. The other thing we want to show is that (Latino-owned businesses) are not just restaurants, landscaping and construction companies. We have Latino graphic designers, lawyers, dentists, nurses, professors and insurance agents. We are diversifying.
Q: When you came to Madison in 2004 from Baton Rouge, what was your impression of the Latino business community?
A: There wasn't a large Latino community in Baton Rouge at that moment. So when I came here I was surprised. I quickly learned that it was a big community here, but surprised because it's so cold here.
Q: How much has the Latino Chamber of Commerce changed since you started working with the organization in 2007?
A: We have changed a lot. We have grown.
When I started, we had maybe 20 members, but 2012 was our best year. We increased our membership 50 percent in one year. We were doing baby steps with the chamber. We had our gala event Nov. 30 at the Concourse Hotel. When we started that maybe five years ago, we had 80 people. The last one, we had 320 people.
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