Retiree backs formation of a Latino chamber
Se habla espanol.
A new Grand Valley resident is calling on the Hispanic business community to do more than reach out to other Latinos.
At the same time, Rich Lopez is hoping to help the rest of the business community here to tap into that Latino market.
The 73-year-old retiree is trying to help boost jobs and the economy by getting people in both communities to work in unison.
Lopez said he’s learned since selling his print shop in Greeley and moving to Fruita with his wife about a year ago that many of Mesa County’s Latinos feel somewhat isolated from the rest of the community.
So the longtime entrepreneur is turning to what he knows best: He’s calling on businesses to help create the valley’s first Latino chamber of commerce.
“What I see here is a need for some kind of bridge to connect the two communities,” Lopez said. “Many are afraid of discrimination and even tell stories about being discriminated against. I tell many of the Latinos that we have to come out and be part of the fabric, to be part of the community.”
U.S. Census data shows that the nation’s Latino population has grown to nearly 17 percent, with Mesa County’s population not quite that high.
Still, that’s about $1 trillion in buying power nationwide, a figure that’s only going to increase in the years to come, Lopez said.
As a result, it makes sense not only for the Latino community to start its own organization in the valley to promote business, but make sure it works with others in the valley to boost economic opportunities for all.
“I come from a business background, and to be successful in business I’ve learned we can’t turn away customers,” he said. “There are all these groups out there, and we all have the same goal in mind.”
That’s exactly what Diane Schwenke told Lopez when the two met to discuss the idea recently.
As the president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, Schwenke said previous attempts to reach out to the Hispanic business community have failed.
She believes it’s because the chamber isn’t communicating well enough just what benefits it can provide.
Still, Schwenke is recommending to Lopez not to create his own nonprofit group, but instead work with hers as a kind of Latino council, something that could work under its own autonomy but still be part of the larger group.
She said small chambers like one Lopez is considering have small populations to build from and aren’t always very successful as a result.
Schwenke said women’s chambers of commerce are a good example. Once plentiful nationwide, few remain.
“When I first came into the chamber profession 30 years ago, there were a lot of women chambers,” she said. “We got to the realization that we have a much broader market if we are out there with a broader group. Because of that, there are very few women’s stand-alone chambers of commerce anymore.”
While the county’s Hispanic population is about 13.6 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census data, only about 4 percent of businesses here are Latino-owned.
Lopez said he isn’t closing the door to Schwenke’s idea to operate under the auspices of the larger chamber, but he’s unsure if it’s something the Latino community is ready for.
As a result, he’s hoping to gather as many as he can — and he isn’t restricting his membership to Hispanics only — in an effort to find out.
He’s hoping to create a start-up governing board in the coming months and discuss where, or even if, the idea of a Latino chamber could work here.
“We all want the same things,” Lopez said. “In order to achieve those things, we have to create a dialogue. That means we have to come to the table to establish a relationship that will turn into trust, but it starts at the table.”