The Chamber’s Guiding Light

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana rises to the challenge of uplifting and supporting marginalized business owners.

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When Mayra Pineda took on the role of President and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana (HCCL) in 2014, she did so with the mission of paving pathways to success for underserved communities.

“It is important to me to serve as the president of HCCL because the Hispanic community does not have the same ability to access resources and create generational wealth that other communities do,” she says. “We are a disproportionately impacted community, something that has only been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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In fact, several studies from 2020 indicate that Hispanic/Latino individuals were unemployed at a higher rate during the pandemic in comparison to their white counterparts.

“The Economic Policy Institute details this further in a 2020 3rd and 4th Quarter study, noting the overall unemployment rate for Hispanic Workers was high compared with white workers,” Pineda says. “Furthermore, Hispanic workers faced unemployment greater than 10 percent in eight out of the 18 states with available data. This study is a clear representation of the disproportionate impact felt by the Hispanic community, particularly with unemployment.”

Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), says Latinos were disproportionately affected in the five hardest-hit sectors during the pandemic: leisure/hospitality, retail, transportation, construction and general professional.

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“Hispanic businesses have been disproportionately hurt by the pandemic, and the stimulus packages have fallen short of addressing the needs of these businesses,” he says. “The Hispanic community lost about 25 percent in revenue during the pandemic, according to a recent McKinsey & Company Report.”

With so many factors affecting the Hispanic workforce and business community, the work of HCCL—and in turn, the national USHCC—became even more critical to ensuring that minority-owned businesses not only made it through the pandemic, but that they were also able to rebound and revitalize their operations.

 

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On a Mission

Like all such chambers of commerce, the USHCC serves to promote the economic growth, development and interests of a particular community—in this case, more than 4.7 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute more than $800 billion to the American economy every year.

Advocating on behalf of a national network of more than 250 local Hispanic chambers, the USHCC focuses on three main areas: access to capital, building capacity and helping Hispanic business enterprises make the connections they need to secure procurement contracts and new growth opportunities.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana shares that same goal—to foster the continued economic growth, development and promotion of Hispanic businesses and their associations—on a more regional scale, directly applying its efforts to the State of Louisiana. HCCL is the conduit between the Hispanic business community and the community at large, and one thing the pandemic has unequivocally shown is that community connections are fundamental to a business’s prosperity.

However, minority populations, especially those who do not speak English, continue to face more obstacles than their English-speaking counterparts, and thus, their access to community networking and resources is more limited and can be detrimental to starting or maintaining a successful business.

“The barriers that hinder the growth of Hispanic businesses and prevent access to opportunities must be erased to truly bring economic development to the areas and allow for the creation of wealth,” says Pineda. “We at HCCL are committed to advocating for diversity, equity and inclusion as the foundation of this growth throughout the State of Louisiana.”

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated language disparities in the Hispanic community, due to a lack of Spanish-language materials and information regarding the pandemic, government aid and business resources. Pineds says that as soon as the HCCL observed this particular challenge, they sprang into action.

“We consistently updated our community with the latest information, in both English and Spanish,” Pineda says. “Furthermore, when the Small Business Administration, State of Louisiana and other nonprofits and/or corporate organizations began advertising for relief funds and grants, we helped small business owners through the applications and with technical assistance.”

In addition, the HCCL offers financial workshops every month that are most relevant to the community and even maintained this programming virtually during the pandemic. Past workshops include QuickBooks 101 and Best Saving Techniques, both of which guided business leaders through need-to-know practices and technologies.

Even outside of regular workshops, HCCL deploys constant communication through digital channels in an effort to educate locals about procurement opportunities in Greater New Orleans and surrounding regions.

“Whenever we receive information about an open opportunity, we share that with our community so they can be the first to apply,” Pineda says. “In addition, we work closely with certification entities to encourage business owners to become certified and have a better opportunity to access contracts.”

On top of these monthly workshops and seminars, the HCCL hosts seven annual signature events that provide members and attendees with insight from local and/or national leaders, as well as networking opportunities. The annual Women’s Business Symposium provides tools for women to enhance their skill sets and to excel amidst the challenges of the pandemic or any other personal or professional barriers. The annual Healthcare, Technology and Innovation Summit provides a space to discuss the latest innovations in healthcare and technology with keynote speakers and various industry professionals. Meanwhile, the Hispanic Business Forum and Tradeshow and the Excelencia Gala further connect Hispanic professionals to the community at large, with the Gala serving as the HCCL’s biggest fundraiser of the year.

The way Pineda sees it, staying constantly active is key to being constantly visible, both to the larger business community and to Hispanic professionals who might not be aware of the resources and opportunities the Chamber affords its members.

And in order to bring the most up-to-date resources and information to Louisiana, Pineda continues to represent the local business community as a board member for the USHCC. Ramiro Cavazos says Pineda’s and the HCCL’s work exemplifies everything a local chamber should be.

“Mayra Pineda and her team at the HCCL have done a great job providing innovative bilingual programming in her community,” Cavazos says. “Last year, we had the opportunity to co-host several Town Halls with the HCCL to share important information about data, federal programs and more. We also co-hosted a conversation with Louisiana Lt. Governor Billy Nungesser where we urged him to support more contracting opportunities for Hispanic and minority-owned businesses.”

With every new event, informational session or community initiative, the HCCL strives to enhance its impact on existing members and to reach even more minority-owned businesses leaders who could use a helping hand.

 

San Antonio Hispanic Chamber Of Commerce
ABOVE: Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC)

 

Expanding Horizons & Forging Connections

In addition to making the most of its own capabilities, partnerships are equally crucial to advancing the HCCL’s visibility and reach in the community. More than 50 national and local companies support the Chamber through sponsorships and collaborations, including Louisiana Economic Development (LED). Together, LED and HCCL host a Small and Emerging Business Development (SEBD) program, which convenes new and scaling businesses for a yearlong peer-to-peer learning experience that covers problem solving skills, developing best practices and establishing a supportive network.

Among the Chamber’s other new and growing partnerships is JP Morgan Chase, which recently doubled down its commitment to creating equity for Hispanic professionals by becoming HCCL’s Diamond Partner. Pineda says this expanded partnership will further establish a sustainable and diverse business environment.

“We will be rolling out new initiatives to meet the community in their space and provide the needed tools and resources to build a more equitable community,” Pineda says. “JP Morgan Chase has been an important partner for the HCCL for many years, but [the company’s] new vision to empower communities aligns with the organization’s work, and the current and urgent needs presented by COVID-19.”

One such need was to educate Spanish-speaking populations about COVID-19 vaccines as they became available, as a lack of Spanish language resources regarding distribution, effectiveness and other essential information put marginalized populations at further risk. To that end, HCCL partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana for an informative #GetTheVax campaign via social media networks, which included Spanish social media graphics with vaccine distribution sites and availability.

“We are very proud of this partnership and will continue to update our community with relevant information until everyone has gotten their vaccine,” Pineda says.

While it is a common misconception that a business owner must be Hispanic to become a member or partner of the HCCL, the organization encourages businesses and professionals of all backgrounds, ethnicities and industries to join its membership. The Chamber actively seeks partnerships and collaborations with both Hispanic-owned and allied businesses and organizations, because everyone can have an impact on creating an equitable and prosperous economy.

“The need for diversity, equity and inclusion within all spheres of society is more necessary than ever before, and becoming more involved with the Hispanic business community is a powerful step in the right direction,” Pineda says. “We have an extraordinarily strong and loyal network, and, once you join, you immediately feel the positivity, dedication and support of our community.”

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