Hispanic-owned enterprises are growing at a rate three times the national average, with over 3.2 million businesses that contribute $486 billion to the economy every year. Yet just a few years ago, the nation’s leading advocate for Hispanic businesses, the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) was on life support. The organization was deeply in debt and despite its best efforts, steadily losing the support of its corporate sponsors. It was on the brink of disappearing until Javier Palomarez became President and CEO in 2010.
A former senior executive at corporations like Allstate, Sprint, and Bank of America, Palomarez reinvented the USHCC by redefining the brand, cutting expenses, and aggressively building new partnerships. In the process, the organization has grown revenue more than tenfold over the last three and half years, and gone from 34 corporate sponsors to over 253. Additionally, it has expanded beyond local chambers and corporate partners to include entities such as the Cellular Telephone Industries Association (CTIA), the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the American Petroleum Institute (API), and even the embassies of foreign countries such as the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Israel. Palomarez affectionately calls these partners “a coalition of the willing.” He explains, “our partners join us because they believe as we do, that redefining our narrative is not solely about Hispanics, this is an issue of American small business, free enterprise, and job creation.”
The USHCC helps write this story every year at their national convention, which is the largest gathering of Hispanic business leaders in America. This year, the convention will be held on September 20-22 in Houston, Texas. This two-day event, sponsored by BP America as the Convention Corporate Chair, features a wide array of speakers and moderators from the highest levels of both the public and private sector—from presidential candidates, to sitting governors, to secretaries of federal agencies, to CEOs.
‘When BP invests in the U.S. Hispanic Chamber, we’re investing in the future of America. Our partnership is rooted in shared values, including hard work, courage, resilience and respect. It’s also rooted in shared priorities, such as improving public education, developing STEM-learning programs, and helping the next generation of American workers acquire the knowledge and skills they need to build their careers,” says John Mingé, Chairman and President, BP America.
Palomarez adds that one of his key goals for the national convention is to use it as an opportunity to increase the number of Hispanic Business Enterprises (HBEs) as contractors and suppliers for Fortune 500 companies. Last year, the association helped establish over 4,000 appointments between HBEs and major corporations, enabling them to develop valuable business relationships with minimal time and travel.
“We applaud those corporations that strive to reflect the diversity of their customers, employees, and investors in their supplier base,” Palomarez said. “We at the USHCC are accountable to ensure that our friends in corporate America continue to find ways to partner with America’s dynamic Hispanic business community.”
Besides business matchmaking, the highlights of this year’s convention will include a mayoral plenary with Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City; Mayor Bob Buckhorn of Tampa; and Mayor Ivy Taylor of San Antonio. Additionally, the USHCC will host a CEO panel with Marcelo Claure of Sprint Corporation, Tom Greco of Frito-Lay North America, and Manolo Sanchez of BBVA Compass. Other speakers include Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro; Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn; Governor of Texas Greg Abbott; and Republican presidential candidate Governor Jeb Bush, who will deliver a major keynote speech followed by a private roundtable with a handful of America’s top Hispanic business leaders.
Always determined to outdo itself, the USHCC also hosts a legislative summit in Washington, DC where the organization’s members meet with Congressmen and discuss policy issues critical to the health of their industries. Attendees of this year’s summit met with 75 members of Congress, including 40 Democrats and 35 Republicans. Previous guests include President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Cory Booker, Senator Mitch McConnell, civil rights leader Congressman John Lewis, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Senator John McCain, Representative Xavier Becerra, among others.
Under Palomarez’s leadership, the USHCC has continued its core mission of working on behalf of Hispanic-owned businesses, which includes expanding its voice on public policy and politics.
“I have always believed that our community should redefine its own narrative,” Palomarez says. “I believe that day has come. The Hispanic community, in every aspect of American life— socially, economically, and politically— has merged— and emerged— into the mainstream.”
Even though the 2016 presidential election is more than a year away, the campaign is already in full swing and Palomarez says he intends to have the USHCC become an integral part of the political discourse. “Our vision has always been to be an organization that afforded everyone an equal and honest opportunity to debate and engage,” he says, emphasizing that the USHCC is a nonpartisan association. “We are an organization that understands that business and policy are inextricably bound. As one goes, so does the other, and the fates of both are tied.”
With that in mind, the USHCC has hosted question and answer sessions with presidential candidates including Senator Ted Cruz, former Governor Martin O’Malley, and Senator Bernie Sanders. Senator Marco Rubio is scheduled to speak to the association’s members, and Hillary Clinton has reached out to the USHCC about meeting with local members across the country.
“Now that we have a voice, what will we say? How can we use this moment in history and how do we take our redefined story, and use it to transform an entire nation?” asks Palomarez. “And with 2016 on the horizon, we intend to ensure that the voice of America’s Hispanic business community is at the forefront of our nation’s economic and political agenda.”
And that includes jumping into the fray when the Hispanic community comes under attack. The USHCC was quick to criticize Republican candidate Donald Trump’s remarks about immigrants, Mexicans, and women.
“Donald Trump’s statements--which may be dismissed as the rantings of a fringe candidate--certainly do not reflect the leadership qualities needed in 2016 and beyond, and are unwelcome in today’s political conversation,” Palomarez says. “Mr. Trump should be well-aware of the critical role foreign-born workers play in the success of his enterprises. We commend those who have denounced Trump’s extremist rhetoric, and look forward to a national, fact-based dialogue with corporate leaders and presidential candidates, regardless of political affiliation, that is predicated on dignity, respect, civility and compassion for all people.”
The USHCC has also announced that it will not consider Trump properties as sites for any future events and conferences. Unquestionably, the association will be taking its business elsewhere.
It is impossible to tell the story of Hispanic business in America without acknowledging how education has contributed to the rise of this bourgeoning community.
At the forefront of the effort is the USHCC Foundation, which provides resources in the form of education to small businesses, local chambers, community leaders and the next generation of entrepreneurs. Through local programs across the country, the Foundation offers vital business training and education to current and emerging business leaders. Chaired by Nina Vaca, the Foundation primarily focuses on entrepreneurship and building pipelines of leadership. Vaca is the Chairman & CEO of the Pinnacle Group, recently named the fastest-growing women-owned business in the world.
“What we’re doing at the USHCC Foundation isn’t just providing education – it’s changing lives,” said Vaca. “Our programs are focused on providing critical business skills for students, leaders, and entrepreneurs in local communities.”
The Foundation’s programs include youth entrepreneurship competitions, local business training, and women’s symposiums. The At the Table initiative, arguably the most success Foundation program, brings local women business leaders together to provide critical networking opportunities for a sector of business that employees one in seven U.S. workers. The Foundation has already hosted trainings and events in Miami, Dallas, the District of Columbia, and Orange County this year alone and plans to expand to ten more cities next year. Through Vaca’s leadership and the efforts of the Foundation team, the USHCC is cultivating a new era of emerging business leaders.
Palomarez credits the USHCC’s success to his close-knit and hard-working team, starting with DeVere Kutscher, Chief of Staff and Senior Vice President of Strategy; Gissel Gazek Nicholas, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs and others such as Andrés Peña, Vice President of External Affairs; and Ammar Campa-Najjar, Director of Communications and Marketing.
Recently, Palomarez was honored by the Mexican government with the Ohtli Award, the highest honor given to a foreign citizen. “I didn’t see this coming. I was very surprised. It is amazing at this stage in my life to be standing in that crowd to receive that award,” he recalls, noting that he found himself standing next to fellow honoree and actress Eva Longoria. “What a blessing it is, and it’s a testament to the Hispanic community and who we are collectively.”