Hispanic Chamber Marks Debut

June 21, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The newly formed West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will host a reception at Frederik Meijer Gardens Thursday evening to celebrate its official launch.

The new organization’s goal is to unite and support Hispanic businesses in Allegan, Kent, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa and Van Buren counties and provide them with networking opportunities and training workshops.

WMHCC grew out of the Latino Business Network, a group of business people that met monthly to discuss the needs of Hispanic business owners.

“If there was a need for classes and education we would find ways and means to provide it for whatever concern it was, whether it was retail, accounting or any need of the different business owners,” said WMHCC President Dina Gonzalez.

The group wanted to come up with a strategy that would bring Hispanic businesses together, Gonzalez said. That led to the first ever Hispanic Business Expo, which was held at the DeltaPlex in Walker last November. More than 70 local businesses participated in the expo.

From there, the group started the process of forming its own chamber of commerce under the guidance of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

It wasn’t that the existing chambers in West Michigan weren’t meeting Hispanic business owners needs, Gonzalez said.

“We found there were language barriers, and that a lot of the smaller Hispanic business owners were timid about going to a big chamber that didn’t have a staff that speaks Spanish.

“We’re not trying to separate ourselves. We’re looking to build alliances with the other chambers, as well as provide for that need.”

The chamber currently operates out of donated space in the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association’s clubhouse. It is governed by an executive board and is supported solely by the work of volunteers. It has 12 paid members thus far, Gonzalez said.

She expects about 300 people will turn out for Thursday night’s kick off event.

Among those speaking at the event will be George Heartwell, mayor of Grand Rapids; Armando Ojeda, executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; and Ruben Acosta, board member of both the U.S. and Michigan Hispanic chambers of commerce.

Gonzalez said the chamber’s main focus this year is building membership and organizing the second annual Hispanic Business Expo.

“When we put the first expo together, the energy that was in that room that day I never felt before,” she said. “I want to see this continue.”   

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