A New Approach to Unprecedented Challenges

There is no doubt that 2008 will be remembered as a challenging period for our nation’s economy. The business community has been buffeted by astounding losses on Wall Street and average citizens have endured a loss of confidence in the struggling economy while facing uncertain prospects for the future.

For the Hispanic community in particular, this has been a perfect storm. Hispanic unemployment has run higher than the national average. Industries that primarily employ our community—like construction, retail and manufacturing—have been hit especially hard. And the primary assets of our families—such as personal savings and home values—have lost significant value. So it’s easy to understand that in an historic sense, the Hispanic business community, along with the entire nation, has encountered major economic challenges. But not all indicators for the future are bleak. There have been some very positive longer-term trends that we need to remember as we look forward.

Hispanics comprise the nation’s largest minority with over 45 million people and a purchasing power fast approaching $1 trillion. As far as businesses are concerned, Hispanics own close to 3 million businesses that collectively generate nearly $400 billion in annual revenue. And today, one in ten small businesses is Hispanic-owned. As the fastest growing business segment in the U.S. economy, Hispanic-owned businesses also generate the highest combined revenues among minority small businesses.

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States is expected to grow to 4.3 million within the next six years, with total revenues surging to $540 billion annually. Even in the face of our current economic downturn, Hispanic-owned small businesses, with their creativity, innovation and ability to adapt, are now, and will continue to be, vital contributors to our national economy and an expanding presence in the global marketplace.

This is a testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that characterizes our community, and to the hard work and dedication of our Hispanic businessmen and businesswomen. That is why the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) works hard every day to voice the Hispanic business community’s concerns with these economic and social challenges.The USHCC represents the interests of Hispanic-owned businesses nationwide, from Sacramento and El Paso to New York and Miami, as they seek to gain access to new business opportunities. And as the USHCC approaches its 30th anniversary, we have been developing new ways to pursue our mission.

First, we have streamlined our approach and developed a multi-faceted platform to support our core audiences. These audiences include Latina entrepreneurs, youth, our member chambers, and the Hispanic business community overall. Second, we have developed an exciting new team of professionals in our Washington, D.C. headquarters that brings a wonderful variety of skills and knowledge to our efforts. From the top down, our team represents experts who have worked in Fortune 500 companies and on Capitol Hill, in broadcast television, telecommunications corporations, small start-up entrepreneurial companies, and national non-profits, among others. Their combined experiences and abilities will help to support our members, and the Hispanic business community, face the many challenges out there today.

Programmatically, we have developed an integrated set of initiatives—combining the efforts of our chamber, our foundation, and our television show, Hispanics Today—to provide a variety of resources, information, experiential opportunities, and advocacy for Hispanic business owners to help grow their companies.For example, throughout 2008 the USHCC pursued a comprehensive policy agenda to help Hispanic-owned businesses gain access to the marketplace and fairly compete for their share of America’s economic opportunity. The USHCC fought for improvements to small business regulations so the 8(a) program could be a business development program rather than a hindrance to growth. We pushed for comprehensive immigration reform and even helped author language in last year’s proposed immigration bill that would have ensured that employee verification systems are reasonable and easy to use. And we have worked to promote Hispanic business interests on trade, education, health care and a number of other issues.

Additionally, at our 29th Annual National Convention and Business Expo held in Sacramento, California last September, Hispanic business owners from around the country and Latin America were able to participate in crucial one-on-one matchmaking sessions with potential buyers. Attendees heard from experts on how to gain access to capital. Latina entrepreneurs learned how to get certified so they can take their business to the next level. And chamber members learned how to use the media to promote their local agendas. But that was just the beginning. Over the next year, we will have several activities and opportunities for Hispanic businesses to join us and create a better future for themselves and the Hispanic community overall.

So, as we say goodbye to 2008 and look forward to the year ahead, remember that you can count on the USHCC to keep working for the Hispanic community and to continue its work to support Hispanic business owners across the nation.

David C. Lizárraga is the Chairman of the Board of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC).