COLORADO SPRINGS — The Colorado Springs Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is being recognized this week as the Small Hispanic Chamber of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The awards ceremony was held in Phoenix, Arizona, and is for a local chamber of commerce with less than 250 members. The President and CEO of the Colorado Springs Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Joe Aldaz, traveled to Phoenix to accept the award.
I had a chance to sit down with Joe one on one recently to talk about the growth of the local chamber and its growing influence on the Colorado Springs business and cultural communities.
The honor for Joe comes during this Hispanic Heritage Month, recognized across the country for the cultural, economic, political, and humanitarian influence of the Hispanic population, which is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.
Aldaz called it quite an honor and it's based on a chamber's innovative programs, community service, commitment to helping small businesses grow, and cultural awareness within your chamber.
This is just one of many honors bestowed upon the chamber recently, including Joe being honored individually as a transformational leader at the recent diversity, equity, and inclusion advocacy awards in Colorado Springs, showcasing his work within the largest minority group in Colorado Springs.
Joe calls himself a "part-time executive", but it takes a lot of work to further the business and cultural interests of the local Hispanic community, and seems his job is anything but part-time.
He told me, "We've done a heavy lift on a lot of the programs and events and things that we're doing, not only for our business members, but we have the spirit of collaboration with other chambers, other business like organizations to leverage each other's resources for the betterment of our community as well which helps us."
But his primary focus is to recruit and promote more Hispanic-owned businesses in our community, to educate and communicate the necessary skills and business acumen to grow the more than 6,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in the Pikes Peak region.
Aldaz says, "More Hispanics come into our community, they're known for being entrepreneurs and creating small businesses so we want to try to penetrate that market and tell them what we have to offer to gain their trust."
He says sometimes it's difficult to convince prospective entrepreneurs to take that leap of faith, to trust him and his organization to create a business, so his ability to sit down, one on one with them is key to resolving that conflict.
The chamber itself has grown from just a couple dozen members six years ago to about 250 now and it's a direct reflection of the growth of the Hispanic population here and across the country.
Hispanic business accounts for about 44% of the U.S. economy with an estimated GDP of nearly $3 trillion so it's an impressive and emerging market, "So when you put that into context, there's tremendous buying power and income being generated by the Latino market."
And while he wants to grow Hispanic businesses, he also spends time communicating with the non-Hispanic business community about this emerging market, saying, "Knowing that other business may not understand the Hispanic market, how do we penetrate them, because we want to bring their income and business to us as well."
And with economic power, comes political power. Right now Latinos make up about 20% of the electorate in Colorado and those numbers are growing.
With the election just weeks away, Republicans specifically are trying to draw more Latinos into their camp to try and break up the blue wave that Hispanics have generally supported in recent political cycles.
For Aldaz, he supports more voter registration and more voter participation. Not just for his particular demographic but for everyone in general. He has a very pragmatic approach when it comes to politics.
He says, "If parties could leave their political affiliation aside and try to understand what impacts Americans the most and come to the table to compromise, you're not going to get everything from this side and you're not going to get everything, but lets for the betterment of our country, let us come together and compromise."
Idealistic, sure, realistic, we can only hope. But generally speaking, he has a very optimistic view of things.
He promotes what he calls "The New Latino Paradigm," growing their influence economically and culturally by putting differences aside to the benefit of an entire community.
"We may be different, we may celebrate our heritage differently, but at the end of the day, we're all Americans and this is why this country is so great because of all the cultures that have been able to merge together in this big melting pot and have such a great opportunity."
With the growth of the Hispanic population there has also been an increase in organizations, non-profits, and others that provide startup loans, extend credit or just provide community support like the Colorado Enterprise Fund and the Latino Entrepreneur Access Program through the federal Small Business Administration.
Joe also provides a once-a-month seminar exclusive to Spanish-speaking entrepreneurs about the fundamentals of starting a small business. That information is available on their website.