March 9, 2007

Latinos represent the fastest growing business community in the US

Focus On Community
By Patty Chavez

Do you know that: Latinos represent the fastest growing business community in the United States? We are over 2 million strong and generate more than $300 billion in annual gross receipts. And in small businesses, one in every 10 is owned by a Hispanic entrepreneur. And Latina entrepreneurs – yes watch out gentlemen – start businesses at a rate that is fully six times that of the national average. I had to admit that this week was the first I had ever come across such statistics.

I spent the week in Washington D.C. at the Legislative Conference for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. It was the annual convergence of members of Congress, Hispanic electeds, government leaders and entrepreneurs, corporate America and hundreds of Hispanic business leaders from across the county. It began with a Presidential briefing where President Bush gave generously of his time to address various issues. Then we spent a couple of days in workshops and discussion sessions with such grand leaders such as Senator John Kerry and Senator Robert Menendez and various prominent national experts addressing the issues affecting our Hispanic business community. And the conclusion was the opportunity to travel to the “Hill” to meet with our Congressional representatives – the highlight of my trip.

I was one of two representing the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and armed with information and a passion for our region and causes, we had the honor of meeting with our California legislators to advocate and seek policy support on a variety of issues effecting small minority and women owned businesses.

It was cold and snowing as I walked back and forth to our various appointments – sometimes racing to buildings that were not connected by these underground basement walkways. But this California girl was not at all affected by the cold or the lack of sleep. I became part of this incredible rush that seems to illuminate from a city teaming with history and relevance. People – men and women of various ages and races – rushing every which way with determination, purpose and hope.

We addressed various policy issues, two of which were small business reauthorization and healthcare; and as we were centered on San Diego County we brought it close to home. Small businesses create about 75% of all net new jobs. Imagine what this can do for our region. And as leaders in our region work to create a sustainable economy, - creating a city where residents live, work and play with a chance to cut down traffic and protect the environment - our legislators are looking for ways to help the small business owner. We were there to encourage support for programs such as those that would help ensure our entrepreneurs have access to venture capital . . . the seed money that will get them started.

And in healthcare with everything happening these days, this was definitely a charged issue for us. On a national level there are so many approaches to address health coverage and not everyone agrees on the best. But we all agreed we need to start somewhere – for us that was advocating on behalf of those solutions that increase affordability and access to small business owners. Currently for small businesses, double digit premium increases are making it harder or impossible for employers to provide health coverage. It’s a vicious cycle that adds to the uninsured numbers. Small businesses rely on their employees to keep the mechanisms of their business going. And if employees are ill or their children are ill and can’t get care or wait too long, it affects both long term health and business. And Latinos make up a large percentage of the uninsured.

It was an great experience to be able to discuss and advocate. We were not the only group on the Hill that week. Among our fellow advocates were a group of about 50 young high school aged girls and even a group supporting Irish Immigration Reform.

What I found fascinating is that we traveled miles to advocate because we can – we have the freedom to do so. What a wonderful privilege we take for granted.

We have it in our own back yards too. Though it doesn’t have the grandeur of surrounding monuments and history, but our local representatives are here to hear you just like our distinguished leaders in D.C. Maybe it’s the lack of the pomp and circumstance that keeps us from rushing city hall. Maybe what we all need is that sliver of D.C. rush and find a way to spread its energy.

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