New Latino chamber wants to fill gaps
Latinos, in growing numbers, are everywhere in the Grand Valley and elsewhere in the region.
They own homes, have jobs and operate businesses.
And they buy stuff.
Starting next month, they’ll have one more thing: their own chamber of commerce.
“If you just look around, Latinos are everywhere. Even the Pope is Latino,” said Rich Lopez, the Grand Junction resident who’s spearheading the effort to create the new chamber. “From a business standpoint, what is happening is there are a lot of business opportunities due to the growth. That’s not just for Latino-owned businesses, but Anglo businesses, too.”
That’s the point behind the new group, Lopez said.
Many Latinos don’t always feel comfortable when they enter businesses not operated by Hispanics, oftentimes feeling like they are being discriminated against, Lopez and several members of the soon-to-be Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce say.
“There’s a lot of businesses here in town that are minority-owned, and they kind of get lost in the background,” said Mike Archuleta, one of several charter members of the chamber who will serve on its board of directors. “They need a voice. It’s kind of a networking thing so people can refer business back and forth.”
Archuleta, owner of Valle del Sol Construction Co., 667 Cordial Court, emphasized that the chamber isn’t open just to Latinos. They want, and already have, white-owned businesses among their ranks.
Abel Chavez, who sells funeral plots for Callahan-Edfast Mortuary, 2515 Patterson Road, said the new chamber is about bridging gaps between the Latino and Anglo business communities.
“The Hispanic population is a large population, but it’s kind of a quiet population,” Chavez said. “I hear from friends who ask, ‘Why do you need to have an Hispanic chamber of commerce?’ I say, ‘Why not?’ It’s not hurting anybody, and if anything it will help not just Hispanic businesses, but both.”
According to the latest U.S. Census population estimates, there are about 50,000 people of Hispanic or Latino origin in the four-county region. That’s about 18 percent of the nearly 276,000 residents in Mesa, Montrose, Garfield and Delta counties, where the new chamber hopes to reach.
So the real intent behind the effort is not only to help Latino business owners reach out to others in the business community, Hispanic or not, but also to help non-Latino businesses connect with a market they may not be reaching, Lopez said.
A recent transplant from Greeley, Lopez said they considered joining with the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce but decided against it.
Some on the new board said they did so because they don’t want to get lost under that larger umbrella for fear it would diminish their voice. Others said they don’t believe the Anglo-dominated chamber would properly represent them.
Jerry Martinez, who owns Jerry Martinez Insurance Agency, 627 24 1/2 Road, was more direct. He said the larger chamber hasn’t reached out to the Latino community as much as he thinks it should.
“It’s not a priority to them,” Martinez said. “They’re pretty busy with their own agenda. This is an area where Latino business people may feel more relaxed, and able to share some of their own ideas.”
The initial goal of the new group is simple: Create a base for Hispanics consumers and Latino business owners to network. Eventually, Lopez and the board will look at other ideas, such as job fairs, trade missions and sponsoring local events to help build on that network.
“The main goal is to bring in non-Latino businesses,” Lopez said. “Latino businesses will join, that’s not a problem. But I want to bring in the non-Latino businesses because I can show them how to break into the Latino market. It’s a tough market to break into.”