May 6, 2012
By Bill Lewis
Executive Q&A: Javier Palomarez
Javier Palomarez is president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which advocates on behalf of more than 3 million Hispanic-owned businesses and more than 200 Hispanic chambers of commerce.
He previously served as vice president of multicultural marketing at ING Financial Services. He has also been an executive with Allstate Insurance Corp. and Sprint Inc. He was appointed to the National Advisory Council on Minority Business Enterprise by the U.S. secretary of commerce and is a director of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility, among other positions.
Palomarez was in Nashville last week and addressed a reception held by the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He spoke with Tennessean contributor Bill Lewis.
What is the mission of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce? And how large is the organization?
Our mission is to advocate on behalf of three main constituency groups. In no particular order, they are, first, 158 corporate partners that run the gamut from American Airlines to BMW to Comerica to Chase to Dell to Exxon, Ford, ING and literally every letter of the alphabet.
The second set is local chambers, over 200 local chambers throughout the country and in Puerto Rico, including here in Nashville. These local chambers have recently been joined by other like-minded business associations. For example, the National Association of Broadcasters, the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies, the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Hispanics in Real Estate.
The National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and the National Black Chamber are members of the USHCC because we are like-minded in the context of building business and ensuring that America recognizes the contribution of small businesses of all shapes and sizes and every geography.
Third is local businesses. We represent 3.1 million Hispanic-owned businesses that together generate in excess of $425 billion in revenue on an annual basis (nationally). I like to say that while we advocate on behalf of people who happen to be of Hispanic descent, we are first and foremost American businesses. Every job we create, every tax bill we pay, every product we manufacture, every service we provide ends up benefiting this American economy and our American way of life.
You’ve said the U.S. Hispanic Chamber’s issues include access to capital, health care and insurance reform, improved funding for the Small Business Administration, immigration and education reform, energy policy and workforce development. What unique perspective does the USHCC bring to that conversation?
The challenges that other American small businesses (face) are the challenges we’re facing. There’s a unique perspective in that we are a Hispanic organization, and while we’re not a civil rights organization, we certainly understand the dynamics of being Latino and some of the challenges and opportunities it can afford a business owner. Ours is a story that sometimes bleeds into what one might call a civil rights discourse.
Everything we look at, certainly immigration, which appears to be a very emotional and sometimes divisive subject, our perspective even on issues of that sort is squarely in context of their business impact. Even things such as immigration must be viewed in the context of their impact on the economy; job readiness; having a capable, willing, ready and able workforce.
There are states where it is critically important to have that kind of workforce — Florida, California, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, where agribusiness is critically important, where the construction industry, where the hospitality industry are critically important. Those states are well-advised to look at immigration in perspective of its economic impact.
Were you surprised at how quickly after some states had passed strict immigration legislation that they experienced a labor shortage?
I wasn’t surprised at all. We anticipated it. We warned against it. I think what happens when you have ill-conceived legislation that’s born out of political rhetoric, you are bound to make mistakes and be shortsighted in the context of the broader story, the longer-term impact of the legislation, whether it’s anti-immigrant or not. The reality is we don’t exist in a vacuum, laws don’t get passed in a vacuum, and there are downstream implications that I think every state (should) consider.
What issues are you working on with the Nashville Hispanic Chamber? And you said you’ve been to Nashville twice, the same number of trips as to Los Angeles. Why Nashville?
A couple of programs come to mind. First is the Green Builds Business initiative. It was born out of a recognition that America’s minority communities, not just Hispanic, are often the communities that know the least about environmental policy but are often impacted the first and the longest by bad environmental policy. We all have to become aware. At the end of the day we’re all stewards of the environment. It’s a gift.
It’s also born out of the realization that oftentimes when you are a small-business owner, and I say small-business owner, not just Hispanic business owner, you are so busy running your business that the notion of environmental stewardship is almost a nebulous issue. What happens is you’re ill-equipped and therefore sometimes don’t take any action whatsoever. It’s born out of the belief that if we all do our fair share … the cumulative effect … will make an impact.
Green Builds travels from city to city. It brings to local chambers — and up to 20 local businesses — a world-class trainer named Bill Roth, (founder of) Earth 2017, who trains businesses on these issues. A delivery business (for example) learns that if you bought a hybrid vehicle, the manufacturer might give you a rebate, the municipality might give you a rebate and the federal government might give you a tax incentive.
Training has been held in Nashville, and we’ve had three winners of the Green Builds Business program here.
Another example is the Visa (credit card) Acceptance program that allows local merchants to get on Visa’s payment network. If they elect to use Visa, we award marketing dollars to the local chamber. We keep none of the funding at the national level, and Visa helps us fund local chambers.
And now we have the Aetna (insurance) program that allows local businesses to offer health care, even dental and hospitalization coverage. This is the kind of coverage a local business with two, 10 or 15 people might not (otherwise) be able to afford. Individual plans will be made available to NAHCC members through this agreement and will include expanded services not offered in Aetna’s standard plans, including a new consumer portal for online services.
How does your group encourage entrepreneurship?
All of our programs are meant to ensure that entrepreneurs have an easier time of it. One of the beautiful things about America is that we have in our DNA a love of the entrepreneur. This is a nation of entrepreneurs. George Washington was an entrepreneur. Our role, part of it, is to utilize our network of local chambers and associations to prepare the entrepreneur to succeed. It’s critically important that America recognize the power and contribution of small business, the fastest-growing segment of which is Hispanic.
What brought you to Nashville for a second time?
I’m enamored with the city. Southern hospitality is alive and well in Nashville. I’m taken with how diverse and how progressive Nashville really is. I find here a community that believes in American small business. It’s a very entrepreneurial city. The culture is phenomenal. It’s really a national leader in embracing the Hispanic community and the entrepreneurial spirit.
The rate of growth of the Hispanic population in this state and in this city is in the triple digits, averaging 400 percent over the last handful of years. Business and success know no boundaries. They know no culture. They know no race, no creed, no religion. They only know success. I think a mayor and a city such as this recognize that.
You’ve said that creating opportunities for Hispanics is not a matter of civil rights, it’s a matter of being smart and recognizing the talent and value of a growing population. What do you mean, being smart?
Anytime you spur the entrepreneurial spirit and allow business to flourish, at the end of the day economies get better. People build homes. Jobs are created. The tax base gets created. It’s a national imperative to understand the opportunities that lie in the Hispanic market. Many would have us believe that we’re headed to some terrible transition, some terrible consequences because of the growth of the Hispanic community. I believe leaders such as Mayor (Karl) Dean who recognize the power of this growing market, the entrepreneurs within this market, the power to create economic development at a time when it’s critically needed, get beyond the rhetoric and think about it from an economic perspective.
The sooner our nation recognizes the wonderful opportunity that exists in this burgeoning market, the better off we’ll all be as a nation.
Source: The Tennessean