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El Sentinel

Orlando Bids For Hispanic Chamber Event

By Walter Pacheco

December 14, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Orlando Sentinel. All rights reserved. 

Orlando is in the bidding to host the annual convention of United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 2007.

It is the second time that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida has attempted to host the annual meeting of the USHCC.

Orlando lost to Atlanta in 2001, but Mario García, president of the local chamber, believes the city has a better chance to host the 2007 national convention than its competitors, Miami, Tampa, and Puerto Rico.

"When we talk about the growth of Hispanic businesses in Florida, I think Orlando has come a long way," García said.

Orlando is known as a tourist destination, but the rise of telecommunications and hi-tech industries in the area help make Central Florida and Orlando a key spot for the convention.

The USHCC, established in 1979 and based in Washington, D.C., will make its decision before April 2003. The national group represents more than 200 Hispanic chambers of commerce and Hispanic business organizations across the United States.

Its annual convention draws more than 2,000 attendees and up to 1,000 exhibitors, including Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, hoteliers and financial institutions.

The gathering of such powerhouse companies and institutions allows local businesses the opportunity to meet them all under one roof. The host city also benefits because other businesses perceive it as a hub for Hispanic business.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has chosen Phoenix, Austin and Milwaukee as the sites for the next three conventions.

The Central Florida chamber submitted in September a proposal to the national group detailing why it should choose Orlando over Puerto Rico as the host city.

Among the factors are the area's tourism industry, which includes the theme parks and plenty of hotel rooms, as well as the region's growing number of Hispanic-owned businesses whose numbers jumped in the 1990s.

In 1997, Orlando had more than 10,541 Hispanic businesses -- or almost 10 percent of all businesses in the metropolitan Orlando area, which includes Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard, and Volusia counties. These businesses accounted for more than $963 million in sales, according to the 1997 Economic Census.

García said that national group's recognition of the Central Florida's chamber as the "Large Hispanic Chamber of the Year" for Region 6 could benefit Orlando.

The local chamber's negotiations with the Orange County Convention Center to be the site of the annual meeting -- for free -- could close the deal.

Zita Steglich, a spokesperson with the Orlando Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau said they're offering the site for free through a joint effort with local hotels and businesses. The convention center will cover remaining costs.

USHCC national conventions costs as much as $2 million, according to Raíza Tamayo, chair of Region 6, which covers the southeastern United States.

"Bringing something of this caliber to Orlando really helps boost not only Hispanic businesses, but others who want to participate in the event," Steglich said.

Ada Rodríguez, marketing and operations director for the local chamber, said the convention would help local businesses cement relationships with corporate America.

Plus, she said, "You can't beat the price."

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