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The Salt Lake Tribune

Latino Group Emphasizes Opportunities

By Holly Mullen

January 18, 2004
Copyright ©2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Ramon Rodriguez, chief operating officer of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, names one trend after another in place to help Latinos succeed in the world of American business:

* Latino population growth continues to outpace that of other ethnic groups, particularly in states that have not traditionally been magnets to the ethnic group: Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Nevada and Utah.

* Liberalized policies in free trade and President Bush's unveiling last week of an immigration-reform package.

* Explosive growth of Latino women-owned small businesses. Women are now outpacing men 6-to-1 in starting and growing their own firms, Rodriguez says, and have begun moving away from traditional women-owned businesses such as beauty salons, dressmaking and restaurants. More and more, Latino women are moving into telecommunications, construction, hardware and software technology, financial services, even package delivery services.

* Spending power is booming among Latinos. The chamber figures Latinos are pumping about $600 billion a year into the U.S. economy.

"One of our biggest issues still remains," said Rodriguez. "If we are good enough to to buy goods and services then we are good enough to be part of the of the decision-making process and to be playing on a level field with others."

Rodriguez was in Salt Lake City this weekend with 27 board members of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce -- only the second time in the organization's 25-year history the annual board meeting was held outside Washington, D.C. A big part of the weekend activity centered on the Utah Hispanic Chamber's efforts to bring the 2009 national convention to Salt Lake City.

Board members took in the Utah Jazz-Miami Heat game on Thursday and had the option Saturday night of attending the Utah Symphony and Opera's performance of "Hansel and Gretel" or dinner and a tour of Temple Square. Later Saturday night, they were scheduled for one of Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson's night-life tours.

The chamber concludes its business today at the Little America Hotel.

Phoenix is another competitor for the 2009 gathering, said Robert Rendon, a member of the Utah Hispanic Chamber and director of community reinvestment for Zions Bank. "We feel like if we could pull off the 2002 Winter Olympics, we could do a heckuva job for the chamber."

The national organization, made up 153 chapters, was formed in 1979 when a few Latino leaders decided to tap the potential of their business community by building contacts and working to forge more opportunities for business ownership. The group began in New Mexico and now has representation across the country and in Puerto Rico. The Utah chapter has 200 members.

Chief among the U.S. group's interests is building mentoring programs for Latino youth and women. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Foundation focuses on grooming the next generation of leadership with scholarships and summer programs that "encourage young people to believe they can be more than employees; they can be employers, too," said foundation President Frank Lopez. "And they can be more than celebrities. Every young Hispanic knows Jennifer Lopez or Sammy Sosa. But do they know Arturo Moreno, the owner of the Anaheim Angels? Or Charles Garcia, a prominent author? These are role models, too."

Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in New York City and is an attorney by profession, sees opportunity blooming for Latinos.

They are gravitating toward jobs in the textile and poultry industry in Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas. In Nevada and Utah, the gaming, hospitality and tourism industries are beckoning.

He also sees, however, a pressing need to monitor these businesses for good wages and proper chances for advance- ment.

"If our people are good enough to serve your food, make your beds and tote your luggage, we plan to build awareness that we are good enough to manage the reservation desk and to run the casino, too."

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