10/11/2011 08:10 am ET | Updated Dec 11, 2011

Chambers & Businesses... A New York Perspective

According to an SBA study, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses grew 88 percent during the 10-year period from 1997 to 2007. Their growth rate was almost 3 times the national level (30 percent) for the period. Continued growth is expected to be 41.8 percent in the next six years to 4.3 million Hispanic owned businesses with total revenue surging 29 percent to more than $539 Billion.

The Hispanic Chambers of Commerce are doing a good job with their intent, however, when we survey Hispanic small business owners in NY, many say they don't know of the Chambers, and many more would like information and help with their challenges, and still others feel they are now past the stage of needing help. Take, for example, Jose Geraldo, who is a former corporate executive and current entrepreneur in New Jersey. "The chamber of commerce has become too political; because of it, they are removed from reality. They can do more with business owners.
They get lost in the national agenda and forget about the local agenda which is where
all the businesses are," he said.

Paul Fernandez, former National Supermarket Association President and current partner in Rayuela, upscale fine dining Latin food restaurant, and the owner of NSA and MetFood supermarket s in Chelsea and Little Italy, agrees. "I am not involved with chambers now or in the past as I was growing my business"

This not to say they do not or cannot help, but I just never really knew much about them as I was building my businesses and felt that I just needed to focus on what needed to be done. You
could say I never did because I was never approached by them. I guess if they did approach me and it made sense that they could help my business, I would have gotten involved," he said.

I just came back from the 32nd Annual Hispanic Chamber of Commerce convention, and it showed what the power of organization, or should I say working in an organized manner, can do. It was my first time attending the convention and I must say, I was impressed.

LatinTRENDS was also a media sponsor of the convention. Dozens of Fortune 500 companies participated, along with a few thousand community business owners (though, admittedly, not as many as I would have liked to see), elected officials and professionals from many disciplines.

They came from all over the country to network, learn, schmooze and further their business, all while basking in the beautiful Miami weather and scenery at the classy Fountainbleu Hotel.

Others came to be in the mix because of what may very well be the beginning of the greatest time in America to be Latino or and in business servicing Latinos...and here is why!

• A U.S. Census report issued late last month confirmed that the U.S. Hispanic
population ballooned 43% during the past decade, surpassing 50 million.
• Hispanics accounted for more than half of the overall population growth of 27.3
million between 2000 and 2010
• Hispanics continue to be the largest U.S. ethnic group at 44.3 million and
account for almost 15% of the U.S. total population. Overall purchasing power of
Hispanics is expected to reach more that $1 trillion by 2011.
• 79% of US Hispanic Internet users are bicultural and the majority of these
bicultural Latinos are online every day.
• One in five US mothers are Hispanic.
• From 1980 to 2010, US Hispanics grew by 7.8%, Asians 4.8%, African Americans
.09% and Whites decreased by -15%

The U. S. Hispanic Chambers Of Commerce, but more so the local chapters, have a great opportunity here to service the needs of so many diverse entrepreneurs at many different levels. This is great time to be in business and an even greater time to be an Hispanic in business. It is the small business owners that are collectively infusing the US economy, and the world for that matter, while bringing much needed innovation to the market place.

Some Chambers do their due diligence in connecting and assisting their area business owners, but others (to be absolutely frank) do not, in part because they lose sight of why they exist: to assist and service businesses and business owners. To be fair, it's not easy work and it's even more difficult to sustain one's self and an organization by trying to help small business owners, and even more difficult to do this and actually run a cash flow positive chamber, but it is doable.

For example, on too many occasions, chamber presidents are at war with rival
chambers because of competition, in-fighting, internal and external politics, and/
or habit. Sometimes, they are fighting each other because of money or presence and
the corporations that they seek funding from see or hear it. This is not good for their
fundraising efforts; in fact, it hurts them in the long run.

As an entrepreneur involved in the community for decades, I would certainly advise against this type of practice. These are the sort of practices that keep us from working with one another. Unfortunately, we don't have the voice that our numbers command, but we are not being left behind because we have never been at the top of the food chain in the US to begin with. What we need to do is work with one another and stop fighting each other so much; it not only consumes energy, it deviates one from the agenda and mission, it hampers success, and it kills opportunity.

I happen to be a fan of constructive criticism; it's how one grows. As a community, we need to stop being so critical of each other. Let's show a little bit more love for one another -- there is enough room for all of us to love each other, and still be in business for ourselves. When we do this, good things will come, great things will happen and outstanding stories will be told, stories for generations to come...positive stories of inspiration, motivation, prosperity and success, not just individual stories of success (we have them), I am speaking of collective let's dream, but much more important than the dream. Let's work! Hay trabajo que hacer!

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