The Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (TCHCC) began, like I’m sure many other organizations, with great hopes and plans for 2020.
We had a new board that was a good mix of seasoned and new directors. I also was optimistic as I took over the president’s position since our finances were solid and our standing in the community was positive and growing.
The year started off very well. At our strategic planning session this January we set an ambitious goal of growing our membership significantly to help more small businesses in our community and to grow each of our three main events – our Spring Gala, mariachi festival and annual dinner – as well as attendance at our monthly events.
We also wanted to increase our efforts and reach with Spanish-speaking business owners. In January and February everything went well with two very successful luncheons focused on the Pasco-Colima Cooperation and Friendship Agreement (by Michael Morales) and the Procurement and Technical Assistance program (by Jody O’Connor).
We were very excited about our March luncheon on “The State of Higher Education in the Tri-Cities,” as well as preparations for our Una Noche de Éxitos community awards event scheduled when we had to put a stop to all our face-to-face events.
Like many, we initially did not know how long these directives were going to last, and we were optimistic about holding our Mariachi and More event in June, restarting our face-to-face luncheons in the summer, and certainly having our end-of-the-year annual dinner in December. But this was not to be.
We initially worked with other organizations like the Greater Columbia Accountable Community of Health and the Benton-Franklin Health District to get out information about Covid-19 and the precautions that both business and individuals should take.
I participated in a community-wide TV awareness campaign. We helped translate documents to Spanish, and we even filmed our own “mask up” video campaign in Spanish on social media with the help of trusted community messengers like Gabriela Araico from Tri-Cities Community Health, insurance agent Nicolas Zavala, Dr. Maricela Sanchez, Deacon Victor Ortega from Chaplaincy Health, and Brisa Guajardo from Community Health Plan of Washington.
As the economic effects of business closures were being felt, we signed a contract with the Department of Commerce to help small business owners, particularly those historically underserved communities, with technical assistance and especially with the Small Business Resiliency Grants. We helped get the word out, in Spanish and English, to many small businesses in Benton and Franklin counties and also helped many of them apply.
More than 25 businesses we worked with received funding, from $3,500 to $10,000.
This Department of Commerce grant ended in August, but, since the economic impact of Covid-19 continued, we signed another contract. This time, however, our work expanded beyond Benton and Franklin counties and now encompassed small businesses in Walla Walla, Grant and Adams counties.
To successfully carry out this work, we partnered with organizations like the Grant County Economic Development Council as well some chambers and municipalities in those counties.
As with the first grant, our primary focus was helping them apply for grants from the Department of Washington (Round two of the Small Business Resiliency grants) but also local grants being administered by or through the local counties, cities and other local entities.
As with the first contract, we did outreach and helped individuals in Spanish and English, and we are happy to say that the businesses we served received over $500,000 in grants. And this work continues until the end of December since the Department of Commerce recently announce a third round of funds focused on the businesses (restaurants, gyms, bars, etc.) most impacted by the most recent closing announced by the governor.
TCHCC also partnered with other organizations who were either distributing funds or helping businesses navigate the directives on safely opening. We translated or reviewed materials for the Walla Walla Chamber and TRIDEC, coordinated with other economic development organizations, and served on committees with the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Even though our focus is on business because of the need created by the pandemic and our special connection with and understanding of the Latino and Spanish-speaking community, we signed a contract with Benton County to conduct outreach about and help individuals with the Rental Assistance/Eviction Prevention Program funded with CARES Act funds.
Through this work we helped hundreds of individuals find out about and receive help covering up to 80% of three months of rent.
While doing all of this we eventually returned to some of our “tradition” programs, albeit remotely, over the summer when we realized we could not wait any longer.
We (re)started having our virtual luncheons in July and continue having them each month. While we had to cancel our Mariachi and More festival, we did have our Una Tarde de Éxitos awards event in October where we recognized eight outstanding individuals who are positively contributing to the Latino and greater Tri-City community.
While this has been a challenging year for everyone, there are several opportunities that have come out of this that I want to point out.
First, because of the funds we received from the contracts, we were able to touch, serve and help many more businesses and individuals than we have in the past.
Second, the effort encouraged us to reach out and work with many partners that we had not previously worked with, such as the Tri-City Immigrant Coalition, Lowe’s of Pasco and organizations in Walla Walla, Grant and Adams counties.
Finally, we are happy that more individuals and small businesses in the Tri-Cities are aware that we are here, and that if we cannot help them directly, we will find another organization that can.
Covid-19 is still here and it will be a long while before things are back to “the new normal” but we are ready to continue working and helping small businesses as well as individuals.
We will continue partnering with local, state, and national organizations to do with work, and we want to thank the Group Health Foundation for a grant we received earlier this year which will allow us to continue providing assistance to businesses, even if they are not yet chamber members.
Martin Valadez is the president of the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
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