Hispanic-owned businesses are growing at a greater pace than any other group of businesses in the state. This rapid hike is matched by the growth of New Jersey’s Hispanic population. Both statistics are helping to elevate the stature of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey.
Numbers alone, however, are not enough to make it a significant platform. That takes leadership. And the dynamic duo of Chair Carlos Medina and Vice Chair Luis De La Hoz are helping to make it happen.
Medina and De La Hoz have come to be known as complementary personalities that have invested sleepless nights and their personal finances into growing the organization into one of the largest in the state. With more than 3,500 members representing more than 119,000 Hispanic businesses in New Jersey, the chamber now is a force to be reckoned with.
Medina and De La Hoz recently sat down with ROI-NJ to talk about the growth of the organization and the impact the Hispanic business community is having on New Jersey.
ROI-NJ: What has been the key to success for the Hispanic Chamber in recent years?
Carlos Medina: The business model that we’ve utilized is inviting to businesses because it’s not necessarily heavy on membership and driving revenue through memberships. The superpower of Hispanic business owners is that they’re very social. So, we always encourage them to use that superpower, because they network well. We have that advantage. It’s a nice organic growth.
Luis De La Hoz: We changed the business model of the regular chamber of commerce. One of the things was social media. We are the most active chamber on social media. But also, usually the business model of the chamber of commerce is unidirectional communication from the chamber to the members. Every time you get an email from a chamber, they are expecting money from you. We don’t do that.
We also help startup businesses.
ROI: Some say your success has to do with your differing personalities and approaches. Do you agree?
LD: I think the reason is because our personal egos are not invited to the conversations. I’m not afraid that Carlos gets the recognition he gets and he’s not afraid to recognize what I do. I feel that we are trying to achieve something greater than ourselves for the entire community. We may have differences. But I think those differences are what make us work together. For me, the fact that when Carlos took the chamber and agreed to do the job for free made a difference.
CM: I’d love to have 10 Luises because of his work ethic and how connected he is to the community. We do things often backward — we do events and don’t worry about the revenue, but know sponsors will come and revenues will come. It’s a risk that some business organizations are not willing to take. Luis’ connections to the smaller businesses is amazing and we never had (those businesses) as members. Because the board members worked at larger companies and gave us outreach that we never had and, frankly, I don’t have.
ROI: Is this a model other chambers can adopt?
LD: Yes. I was very aggravated because many chambers (used to) call me and say they want to talk to us and reach the Hispanic market, and when I go to talk, they say they want me to be a member before we can discuss anything. I said, ‘You called asking me for help, but you’re expecting me to become a member to help you — that doesn’t make any sense.’ For that reason, I remember having a conversation with Carlos to change the business model.
ROI: Gov. Phil Murphy’s new administration seems to have significant contact with you and your members. How has that helped?
CM: The administration cares about our needs and recognizes our value. (The governor) has met with the Latino Taskforce; his office reaches out often. His heart is in the right place. He appreciates Hispanic businesses.
ROI: What do you see as the role the chamber plays overall?
CM: Helping companies that are growing and starting have greater access to capital. We need to find connections with lending institutions and get a fair deal. Also, work with lending institutions to have financials differently and take a little bit of risk. Like the new (Economic Development Authority) program geared to small businesses. We want to be the Rolodex, we want to be the business coach.
ROI: Your events are hits, and with the way you handle memberships, you draw large crowds. How do you do that?
LD: I do believe that we changed the way that a regular chamber looks. And many of our events are new. The only one that is the same is our convention in October. But the Diversity Expo was a new event, the Health and Wellness is a new event. If you check, out of our signature events, four are new in the last 10 years.
If you look around, many of the other chambers (have been doing) things the same way for many years. Because we didn’t have the information or the network when we arrived, we changed things to places we know better. The last thing is, we really pay attention to the data and we read a lot and pay attention to the reports. We understand the language of what the business owners need, and we try really hard to communicate those needs to the sponsors.
ROI: Is it easy for you to gather such a huge crowd every time?
LD: It’s not that someone will call us and say I want to do this or that. We have conversations about why they want this event and ask if they consider doing this instead of that, (and) what do they expect from us. Usually, the conversation gets to the point that we just want to make sure we talk about goals. If you talk to many of our supporters, we always overdeliver. If we are not sure that we can deliver, we probably won’t commit.
ROI: With a chairman who didn’t take a salary for the position, how do you support the efforts of the chamber?
LD: We have to give credit to our team of volunteers. They get inspired by what we do and want to continue it. That’s another big change, because they have the spirit to change. The work we do cannot only be done by us. We can have lots of conversations, but we can just text or email and things get done. We don’t necessarily participate in day-to-day activities. The team also deserves a lot of credit for that.
- Name: Carlos Medina; Luis De La Hoz
- Position: Chair; Vice chair
- Organization: Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey
- Type of business: Business organization
- Location: Lyndhurst
- Date founded: 1989
- Financial goals: Not disclosed
- Website: shccnj.org
- Phone number: 201-935-0035
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