The Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County has been growing quickly for the last couple of years, and in 2019, they’ll make an even bigger leap: expanding services statewide.
As it grows, the chamber will focus on serving south central Wisconsin and will change its name and website, nixing the “Dane County” to reflect its wider presence.
The chamber is an association of Latino and non-Latino businesses. It advocates for Latino-owned businesses, helps grow their capacity and builds bridges with non-Latino organizations.
President and CEO Jessica Cavazos wants to bring the power of economic development — which she says is an essential path out of poverty — to more communities across the state, turning employees into employers.
“Every immigrant community has set up a way of survival through commerce,” she said. “If you don't have the education … the best way to actually create and make your dreams come true is through entrepreneurship.”
Cavazos said that according to the Small Business Administration, the chamber is the fastest-growing minority chamber in the state. Since Cavazos took over as the first full-time executive director in September of 2016, membership jumped from 220 to over 300 members.
The chamber doesn’t have the resources to provide services outside of Dane County, but chambers of commerce around the state have reached out to the Latino Chamber looking for help with economic development or connecting with Latino communities, Cavazos said.
Just last week Cavazos met with an individual from Appleton who told her about the 100-plus parishioners in their church, many of whom have small businesses, but bump up against language barriers.
The Latino Chamber offers a six-month bilingual accelerator program, a Junior Chamber for kids, monthly mixers and classes and workshops on topics like “Financial Wellness” and” Cybersecurity Essentials.” The chamber emphasizes education and economic development, and offers services at no cost.
In some areas of the state, services like the ones provided by the Latino Chamber aren’t available. In others, they come at a price.
“There’s a lot of different efforts going on this state — minuscule efforts to help people understand paperwork, understand different aspect of business ownership, but there is not one set methodology,” Cavazos said.
A statewide Latino chamber of commerce could help build collaborative efforts between communities, Cavazos said, and serve as a center point for legal advocacy.
The Latino Chamber wants to set up what it calls a “mobile chamber model.” The chamber would partner with non-Latino chambers, bringing physical resources and people with expertise to better serve Latinos around the state, though their "loyalty is to the growth of south central Wisconsin," Cavazos said.
To implement the mobile chamber, the organization may need more funding and grants, Cavazos said. To help with that, the chamber, currently a 501(c)(6) organization, is applying for 501(c)(3) status. They will also keep their 501(c)(6) status, which allows them to participate in lobbying.
The expanded chamber would also help “emerging Latino communities” in places like Reedsburg, Baraboo and Lake Delton understand competitive business ownership, she said. Eventually, she would love to see Latino Chamber satalyte offices throughout the state.
The chamber is also in talks with the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and MAFO National Partnership of Farmworker and Rural Organizations to create an opportunities for Latino farm workers to join community co-ops.
“My grandfather was a farm worker and I know if he was given the opportunity to have ownership over a piece of land he would have been an incredible business owner,” Cavazos said. “I would love to see and help those communities … have an opportunity to see how they can become the farmers themselves.”
Other plans in the chamber’s future: in 2020, the chamber hopes to announce a capital campaign to fund their own building with a media center, conference rooms and incubation space. The chamber has also discussed partnering with UNIDOS Against Domestic Violence to start a business class for women who have been victims of domestic violence.