Hispanic Chamber of Commerce poised for ‘that next big step’

The Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce continues to seek new members as the organization expands its presence throughout the Tri-Cities and becomes involved with more regional and state-level committees that work to serve the needs of the Latino business community.

“We’re the largest we’ve been and the strongest we’ve been financially, and I think we’re ready to take that next big step,” said vice president Martín Valadez, who said the chamber has more than 130 members and adds about three to five new members per month.

And that’s not just Latino-owned businesses, emphasized Valadez and chamber President Nikki Torres. All area businesses may join and everyone is welcome at chamber events.

The Hispanic chamber was founded more than a decade ago by several business owners and entrepreneurs who were asked by the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce to come together and respond to the needs of the growing Latino community.

The organization’s mission states it was “organized for the purpose of advancing the economic, industrial, professional, cultural, agricultural, educational and civic welfare of the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities.”

Martín Valadez

Martín Valadez

Valadez said the Hispanic chamber works in collaboration with the other local chambers of commerce and civic and intergovernmental organizations in the area to promote cross-cultural understanding.

“We also work with non-Latino business owners to help them understand that market and help connect them with those clients and those individuals who they might serve and also connect them business to business,” he said.

Though most Hispanic chamber-organized events—including monthly networking meetings—are conducted in English, the organization does provide a series of bilingual small business seminars.

Claudia Tapia of SuperMex El Pueblo Market said her boss, Jesus Higareda, has been able to share his successful experience with other small business owners during these seminars.

“They (also) bring interesting topics and knowledgeable speakers to their luncheons,” Tapia said.

The Pasco grocery store joined the Hispanic chamber four years ago to build its network, gain exposure and to be part of an organization that has the businesses’ best interests at heart.

Tapia said the chamber has supported SuperMex with its new ventures, like Helados La Michoacana, which offers ice creams, freshly made juice and tortas.

“We were able to introduce our product at their luncheons to their members. We have been able to connect with different professionals for services. They have done ribbon-cuttings for us as well,” she said.

In addition to offering business-related support, the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce organizes the annual Mariachi and More Festival, a free cultural event.

Its board members are involved with the Tri-Cities Legislative Council and annual summit, the Downtown Pasco Authority, as well as Visit Tri-Cities.

The organization also partners with Mid-Columbia Libraries to make possible the Tri-Cities Latino Community Network, which holds a quarterly luncheon to share resources with the Latino community.

Hector Cruz of Visit Tri-Cities, one of the chamber’s past presidents, remains active with the group and serves on Eastern Washington University’s President’s Advisory Council, where he works to develop strategies for helping Latino students identify pathways for pursuing higher education.

The Hispanic chamber also partners with Columbia Basin College and Washington State University Tri-Cities to hold the Washington Hispanic Higher Education Summit, a full-day forum devoted to business leaders sharing their entrepreneurship stories.

“To show students that yes, they can do it too, to keep inspiring them to do more,” Torres said.

The chamber is also a part of statewide initiatives, such as Torres’ involvement as a voting member on Governor Inslee’s Childcare Collaborative Task Force, which meets every two months to address the issue of making child care more affordable and accessible.

Most recently, the chamber collaborated on the Latino heritage mural project at the Columbia Gardens urban wine village on Columbia Drive in Kennewick.

Members also are involved in the inaugural River Fest, being put on by the Pasco Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 8. The festival’s aim is to highlight the importance of local dams to the region.

“They really do a great job of supporting the business community,” said Angie Brotherton, community relations manager at Gesa Credit Union, which became a member about 10 years ago.

“As a credit union, we have a commitment to promoting economic development,” Brotherton said. “Just from a business development perspective, one of the great benefits of being a member is that it allows us to connect with other businesses and entrepreneurs.”

Brotherton said Gesa also appreciates the Hispanic chamber’s commitment to provide educational resources for local business owners regarding financial matters.

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