Latino business leaders from across eastern and central Pennsylvania discussed Latino entrepreneurship and concerns with two lawmakers Tuesday afternoon.
The Berks County Latino Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Lehigh Valley and other community representatives convened at the Greater Reading Chamber for Business Excellence in Wyomissing for a roundtable discussion with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Joseph R. Pitts.
The meeting was the product of a coordinated effort by the chambers after Toomey's office extended an invitation to meet with local business leaders.
It was also unprecedented, according to Jaime Perez, chairman of the Berks Latino Chamber.
"This is the first time that these chambers have come together regionally," Perez said before the roundtable. "It is important that we come together and share our ideas and concerns with our elected officials so they understand our issues as Latinos."
The hourlong meeting went by quickly, with community representatives sharing the floor, questioning the congressmen.
Philadelphia attorney Pedro Cortes, a former secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, began the discussion by asking the congressmen how small businesses should navigate federal and state regulatory agencies.
"When the government imposes obstacles and hurdles, it can be frustrating to the point of being maddening," replied Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican.
He referred the participants to Had Enough?, a public service campaign spearheaded by his office that he said would let his staff help small entrepreneurs navigate regulations and learn about grant programs.
Pitts, a Chester County Republican who represents part of Berks, also said that his offices are open to small businesses looking for guidance.
Jose Molina of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Lehigh Valley asked what businesses along the Route 222 corridor could do to encourage officials to make needed improvements to the highway. Toomey said those efforts should focus on PennDOT.
The participants also took the opportunity to discuss issues that impact Latinos nationally.
Michael Toledo, executive director of Daniel Torres Hispanic Center, asked how the legislators would address the need for immigration reform.
Toomey noted his grandparents were Irish immigrants and said that the country needs an adequate legal process for admitting immigrants who want to build a better America while keeping borders secure.
Pitts suggested a new guest worker program that would ultimately lead to citizenship.
Perez asked what small-business owners should know about the federal sequester.
Pitts and Toomey said that Washington has a spending problem and that there needs to be a sustainable solution. Though the sequester is a crude budget solution, it does put some reins on spending, according to Toomey.
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