When the Latino Chamber of Commerce outgrew its space in Monona and started looking for somewhere new to set up their offices, Fitchburg made it clear that it wanted the Chamber.
“The city of Fitchburg did everything in their power to make sure that we were here. They really courted the Latino Chamber and they let us know that we were wanted here,” said Jessica Cavazos, executive director of the Chamber. “That was really the prize factor and the reason that we relocated.”
This week, the organization moved into a new space at 2881 Commerce Park Dr. in Fitchburg, its second move within a year to accommodate expanding needs.
Originally, the Chamber was camped out in Centro Hispano at 810 W. Badger Rd.
As staff were able to gather more resources and provide more technical assistance, classes and one-on-one help for business owners and entrepreneurs, the 600-square-foot space quickly got cramped, Cavazos said.
So the group was happy to move into a 1,100-square-foot space in the Chase Bank building at the Monona office park at 802 W. Broadway in December of last year. They knew the building would soon be redeveloped, but the office was an economical option and they figured the space would work for at least a year.
In March, the Chamber got notice that the building would be razed. They had to be out in May.
The Chamber harbors no hard feelings for the project. As a business chamber, they understand that redevelopment is a good and healthy thing for the city, Cavazos said.
“It was losing its appeal, it needed a lot of care,” she said. “There were a lot of potholes in the parking lot ... We knew it was going to come down eventually, it was just we didn’t realize it was going to be in such a small amount of time.”
Mayra Medrano, president of the Chamber, agreed.
“I like the buzz, I like the momentum and the movement, because it all means we're doing great things,” Medrano said.
And realistically, the organization was outgrowing the Monona space anyway. Their new bilingual entrepreneurial center added to the traffic.
“We couldn’t do workshops at that location at all, because it was a cramped space,” Cavazos said.
They considered staying in Monona, but couldn’t find anything in their budget. Fitchburg came to the rescue.
“The city of Fitchburg came along and said, ‘Hey, we know you're kind of in a bind, how can we help?’” Cavazos said.
There’s a large concentration of Latino families in Fitchburg, so the Chamber had planned to eventually move to Fitchburg. Latinos are moving to the area and opening up businesses, Cavazos said.
“From a demographic perspective, Fitchburg really makes sense,” said Medrano.
The city helped the Chamber find a property, working with property owners and brokers to offer up possible locations, and calling every day to make sure the search was successful. It was that effort that cinched the deal, Cavazos said.
“It’s not that we wanted to steal them from Monona or anything,” said Joyce Frey, a Fitchburg economic development specialist. “They had done outreach to several different communities and (they) felt like we really wanted them here. And we did.”
Frey and Mike Zimmerman, director of economic development in Fitchburg, were the main city players advocating for the Chamber.
“The really fun part of my job is working with someone like the Latino Chamber that’s really excited to be here, and we're really excited to have them,” Frey said.
Frey said the city recognizes the value of its diversity and wants to better serve the Latino population. The north side of town is one of the most diverse areas in the state, she said, and several Latino-owned businesses, like La Concha bakery and La Hispana grocery store, are popping up in the Fitchburg Ridge Shopping Center on Fish Hatchery Road.
She said future discussions could include co-working spaces, grant programs and a multicultural entrepreneur pilot program.
“We would really like to assist with their efforts in any way that we can,” Frey said.
The new space at Commerce Park Drive is 1,600 square feet and has two private offices, two conference rooms and a sharable work station. Members can reserve the conference rooms at no cost and can also use on-site copiers and laptops.
The Chamber hasn’t stopped growing. Cavazos said members want to conduct a capital campaign and purchase a building, hopefully in Fitchburg, in the next few years.