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Amid changing demographics, Arizona Hispanic Chamber poised to lead

Douglas Yonko

Douglas Yonko

The recent debate over Arizona’s state operating budget helps illustrate the genuine challenges facing our economy. Just as real is the enormous promise and potential of Arizona’s most valuable asset: its diverse communities.

As the new chair of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, I’m privileged to work alongside our president and CEO Gonzalo A. de la Melena Jr. to lead an organization that represents, in so many ways, the future of Arizona. The Arizona Hispanic community’s profound historical and cultural contributions to the state’s growth and development are far reaching and impressive.

As for where Arizona is headed? The demographic shift underway today is indisputable. Consider that Arizona’s Latino population more than doubled between 1990 and 2010 to more than 2 million people, or 30 percent of the population, and experts say Hispanics could comprise more than half of the state’s population by 2035. A preview of things to come: The majority of K-8 public school students statewide today is Hispanic.

Due in large part to this significant population shift, the state’s Latino community has fast become a decisive factor in our economic destiny. Arizona Latinos today account for $50 billion in annual consumer spending. Hispanic-owned small businesses are growing at a rate two to three times the national average and now total about 67,000 statewide. Businesses owned by Hispanic women are growing at an even faster rate. And, somewhere between one-quarter and one-third of Hispanic-owned firms in Arizona are owned by immigrants.

Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr.

Gonzalo A. de la Melena, Jr.

The trends speak to the transformational impact groups like the Arizona Hispanic Chamber will have for years to come. In our case, we’re focusing on five major areas; economic development, market research, professional development, advocacy and education.

On the research side, the Chamber publishes an annual report called DATOS: The State of Arizona’s Hispanic Market. We’ve released nine other reports in the past three years on subjects ranging from minority business ownership to best practices on how to diversify the pipeline of small companies that sell goods and services to corporate Arizona. Our Million Dollar Circle of Excellence recognizes companies doing at least $1 million of business with women or minority-owned firms. Our economic development efforts extend to everything from nurturing small business startups to providing consulting services that help established, mid-sized minority-owned firms grow to the next level. Last year, Phoenix’s Minority Business Development Agency office, which the Chamber umbrellas under the direction of Alika Kumar, facilitated more than $1 billion in business activity and created and helped retain thousands of jobs.

On the public advocacy front, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber has stepped up on a wide range of issues in recent years, including backing thoughtful and humane solutions to Arizona’s immigration concerns. Meaningful and modernized reforms will provide a positive impact on our economy, while supporting a robust and equitable educational infrastructure.

High education standards are a priority for us because we understand the inextricable link between a well-trained workforce and a sustainable economy. A recent Georgetown University study estimated that by 2018, 61 percent of Arizona’s jobs will require some form of postsecondary education. Yet, only one third of Arizona’s Latino adults today have more than a high school diploma.

To help address this disparity, we’ve created the Emerging Business Leaders Initiative, which features initiatives such as the national Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA!) which trains high school students to start their own businesses. The Chamber also offers tens of thousands of dollars annually in scholarships for business majors wanting to attend a college or university in Arizona. For those already in school, we partner with College Success Arizona, which provides wrap-around services that ensure students complete college. We also offer internships at the Chamber and, through our corporate sponsors, provide real-world training to ready young people to enter the workforce.

What ties the Arizona Hispanic Chamber’s areas of focus together is our commitment to promote Latino-owned small businesses and the overall Arizona economy, while growing our reputation as a visionary organization that is innovative and reliable.

As for what’s to come, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber is pursuing a $3 million capital campaign to expand our unique services. We have already raised nearly $2 million thanks to the incredible support of the business community, private donors, and special grants. Later this year the Chamber expects to move to a new facility east of downtown Phoenix alongside the light rail. We have also formed, for the first time in the history of our chamber, a political action committee (PAC) to grow our voice in Arizona’s political arena. We expect to be active in statewide races during the 2016 election cycle.

The Arizona Hispanic Chamber believes the promise and potential of Arizona will depend on our state’s ability to develop a thriving economy that nurtures both home-grown companies while attracting out-of-state and foreign investors—all while respecting the full breadth of our state’s diverse communities. We are truly encouraged by the vision of Governor Ducey and the direction he and his administration have established in terms of a renewed focus with our neighbors and friends at our southern border. Mexico is Arizona’s #1 trading partner and brings in critical economic tourism dollars. The economic opportunity we have with Mexico can and will reach new heights, but Arizona and Mexico will have to work together to achieve the results we desire.

The ultimate aim is not solely to make Arizona the No. 1 state in the nation to do business, but also the single greatest place to live or start a new family. Arizona Latinos and the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce are an integral part of what it will take for our state to achieve that goal.

-Douglas J. Yonko is chairman of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and vice president of the Hensley Beverage Company.

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