When Julia Arata-Fratta joined Madison’s Latino Chamber of Commerce in 2007, the organization was in a precarious position. It wasn’t long before she became a board member, then treasurer, then president.
“As treasurer, I was handed a box, $600 in the bank, a handful of members, no office, no strategic plan, vision or employees,” Arata-Fratta said. “One of my goals was to create a financially independent organization. From that point forward, things really took off for me and the chamber.”
By December of 2010, she was elected president of the Latino chamber board of directors.
In four years, the chamber has grown quickly, membership has tripled and staff and funding have increased. A strong alliance has been created with other organizations and chambers. She also works full time at Wegner CPAs.
Q: You are holding the equivalent of two full-time jobs. How do you do that?
A: To be honest, I don’t know. Sometimes I ask myself the same question but I believe that when you have the passion and believe in what you are doing, the workload does not feel so bad. I am also a very well-organized person, I keep doing lists, and I prioritize. In addition, I have a support system: my family, the chamber’s staff, board members and the support of my employer, Wegner CPAs. My motto is to embrace things that you love to do and be an agent of change in the community where you live and not a spectator.
Q: How would you describe the Hispanic community in Madison?
A: The Hispanic community in Madison is very vibrant, diverse, a dynamic force that is impacting slowly but gradually the demographics of our community, and what’s more has similar values and dreams as the rest of people in Madison. But I think that there is still a gap in the Latino community in areas such as education, access to resources, opportunities and underrepresentation in several sectors of our economy. And, of course, there is need for immigration reform.
Q: Is the number of Hispanic businesses increasing?
A: According to the latest census report, Latinos open businesses three times faster than the national average, and at the chamber we can see that in Madison and in Dane County, but the challenge for those businesses is to keep their doors open for more than two years or to grow their companies. One of the problems that they encounter is the difficulty of access to capital or lines of credit. But they are a vital force for the economic development of this region in job creation and purchasing power impact at the large scale.
Q: What role does the chamber play?
A: The chamber is committed to promoting a favorable business climate, to advancing economic development, and to providing fair, equitable access to the marketplace for emerging and existing businesses. Our members of small- and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our local economy, which is why we strongly emphasize the importance of our chamber network and contacts.
Q: How about you? Where did you start out?
A: I am originally from Cordoba, Argentina, and I came to the United States in 1993 to follow my husband as he was pursing his graduate degree. I had already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and had a very successful career. When I came to the States, my English was very limited. This made the transition more difficult as I had to prove myself all over again in a new country and community.
This, of course, was frustrating as I had left my career and family only to start from ground zero in a new country. As I am a person who responds well to challenges, I was committed to proving to others and myself that I could survive in this new environment.
I knew the first place to start was to learn how to speak, write and communicate in English. So, I enrolled in an English program designed for immigrants.
Of course, it was a difficult time, due to my visa status. I had very limited options in terms of work. So, I decided to go back to school for a master’s degree. I was accepted in a small liberal arts college where I obtained my master’s degree in business administration with a major in international business.
As I said, I followed my husband to two different university campuses and in the meantime obtained my master’s degree and had two sons. From there, we decided to move to Madison in 2004. It was in this community where I discovered and was invited into a large Latino population. And it was here where I learned about the barriers and needs of the Latino community.
I first learned of their barriers as an accountant hired by Wegner CPAs, and I was assigned to work with Latino small business accounts. Through my work, I discovered the hurdles that many Latino businesses and their owners experienced while operating their businesses. These entrepreneurs were strong in providing the service particularly in the food service economy, but they did not have much education and training on how to run a business and make it prosperous.
I tried to seek resources that could provide these business skills and/or technical support at an affordable rate, which is how I learned of the Latino Chamber of Commerce.
The chamber’s goal to create a Latino middle class in Dane County is becoming a reality — we have achieved this by creating and providing technical assistance to Latino businesses, which make them stronger and more profitable which, in turn, is allowing them to hire new employees, expand their business, invest in the community in which they live, and send their kids to college.
Q: What do you do for Wegner CPAs, your full-time job?
A: I am a supervisor at the Tax and Business services department. I started in 2004. I specialize in accounting solution services, QuickBooks training, and tax preparation for businesses and individuals. I supervise the accounting solution team, and I am very thankful to have the support of my employer to be able to do my work at the chamber.
Q: What’s the biggest joy in your life?
A: My two sons: Diego (15) and Julian (13).