Latino Chamber taps Hispanics’ growing business potential

The Latino Chamber's 2011 gala featured a lively dance demonstration. This year, tango is on the agenda.

If there was one lesson to be drawn from the recent presidential election, it was that America’s demographic landscape is not just changing – it’s changed.

Nowhere was the population shift more evident than in the Latino vote, which helped swing the election to the incumbent and served notice to all concerned that this was a voting bloc that had to be reckoned with.

“Our culture has a tradition of being creative and putting that creativity into starting and developing business opportunities.”  – Julia Arata-Fratta

Indeed, in all walks of life – business included – Latinos are helping to remake the culture, the zeitgeist, and the economic climate, and they’re celebrating their newfound influence in their own unique ways.

That, of course, includes the tango.

On Nov. 30, the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County – or the Camara Latina de Comercio, to many of its members – will host its fifth annual gala dinner at the Madison Concourse Hotel. In addition to a keynote by Madison College’s Maria Banuelos, the event will feature a demonstration of one of Argentina’s and Uruguay’s most renowned cultural exports. Indeed, it’s an exhibition that Chamber President Julia Arata-Fratta in particular is looking forward to.

“Since I am originally from Argentina, I am very proud of celebrating this country and showing the rest of the community what tango is about,” said Arata-Fratta.

A helping hand

Of course, community outreach is part and parcel of the Latino Chamber of Commerce’s mission these days. While the organization’s primary focus remains the Latino community, the gala is open to the broader business community as well, as are the chamber’s wide range of business programs and resources.

Those services, says Arata-Fratta, are crucial to many Latino business owners, who are often somewhat behind the curve when it comes to best practices in their adopted home. The need to close that gap became clear to Arata-Fratta, a tax accountant with Wegner CPAs, as she began working with members of the local Latino business community.

“One of the biggest [challenges] is that they need to improve their current business practices,” said Arata-Fratta. “They need to know how to do business here – when they organize a conference, how they should do it. They need education in that area.

“It’s different in each country how you organize your company, how you do these things. So they need to learn how to do business in this land, how to get access to the Anglo market, how to do marketing outreach, how to use social media, how to manage a Facebook account. Other challenges are, like every business right now, getting access to a line of credit.”


The topics for the chamber’s programs, some of which are taught in Spanish, include everything from how to start a business to how best to use social media to accounting. They’re held in various locations, including Centro Hispano and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp.

Other services, which are available to both the Latino and non-Latino community, include:

  • Business networking opportunities
  • Access to technical assistance counseling and resources
  • One-on-one meetings with experts, including board members, to discuss business needs and growth strategies

Members also have access to the chamber’s bilingual job postings, are included in the chamber’s online directory, and are eligible for discount programs. In addition, the chamber has partnered with Group Health Cooperative to offer Chamber Care to its members.

A growth spurt

Making sure that Latino businesses are up to speed is not just important to the Latino community, of course. As the Hispanic population continues to rise as a proportion of the general population, it’s no surprise that Latino businesses are following suit. And while the Hispanic community’s work ethic is certainly no secret, its entrepreneurial spirit is perhaps less well appreciated.

That’s changing fast. According to the 2012 Economic U.S. Census, the number of Hispanic-owned small businesses is growing at nearly twice the rate of the national average, and that’s benefiting more than just Hispanics.

“The Latino community has always had a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial culture,” said Arata-Fratta. “Our culture has a tradition of being creative and putting that creativity into starting and developing business opportunities. We have focused on both traditional and non-traditional businesses so we can help Latinos and non-Latinos to prosper and excel in business. We are creating and developing businesses at a record pace, and this country will depend on us for job growth and prosperity.”

But while getting a business off the ground is an accomplishment in itself, keeping it in business for any length of time is arguably more difficult. With the state’s Latino population growing – particularly in Milwaukee and Dane counties – the opportunities for Latino businesses are better than ever, but it’s important to turn those opportunities into successes.

“I see Latino businesses open every day in Dane County,” said Arata-Fratta, “but I also think the problem we have is to keep those businesses open for more than two years, because Latino businesses are creating jobs just like any small business. But we need to keep Latino businesses open, not just watch them opening and closing, opening and closing.”


Going to the gala

According to Arata-Fratta, this year’s gala is an opportunity for Hispanics and non-Hispanics alike to celebrate the diversity, heritage, and entrepreneurial spirit of Dane County’s growing Latino community. The agenda includes an awards program that will recognize Laredos Mexican Restaurant (Latino Small Business of the Year), Erika Soto, owner of Pequenos Traviesos Day Care (Latino Entrepreneur of the Year), and Gladis Benavides, owner of Benavides Enterprises, Inc. (Latina-Owned Business of the Year).

There will also be a silent auction featuring everything from a legal consultation to UW Men’s Basketball tickets to a Hispanic American Girl Doll.

Oh, and you can also try make a bid on an Argentinian wine basket, donated by Arata-Fratta herself.

After all, it’s hard to imagine anything going better with the tango.

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