By Jennifer Torres
On the afternoon of the recent Primary Election, San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO Mark Martinez reflected on how the workings of government and politics affect local businesses.
“Within the business community, because there’s a lot of uncertainty, you have business owners hesitant to make big decisions,” Martinez said.
Government relations, which for the Hispanic Chamber, encompasses everything from helping an owner secure a use permit, to discussing policy with lawmakers in Sacramento, is a service that has grown in significance for the organization, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“Our advocacy work has really become one of our strengths,” Martinez said. “We are a vehicle for our members to have a voice in government.”
It’s a major evolution from the largely social function the organization served when it launched in 1972 as the Stockton Mexican American Chamber of Commerce.
The group still hosts regular networking mixers, but it now represents about 250 members, supports paid staff positions, offers workshops, delivers strategic planning assistance and maintains extensive educational programming.
“We didn’t really think to make much of a big deal about it,” Martinez said. “But then I thought, especially in today’s environment, 40 years is quite an accomplishment.”
Over the years, the Hispanic Chamber has served the diverse needs and earned the appreciation of a range of members, from major operations to small, family outfits.
“The Chamber was instrumental in establishing a meeting between Sims Metal Management, and the Stockton Mayor, the Chief of Police, the Sheriff’s Department, representatives from the California Legislature, PG&E and the Farm Bureau,” Dave Rogers of Sims Metal Management wrote in one letter of thanks.
In another letter, Fabian Ceballos, of Fabian’s Auto Collision Center, praised the Hispanic Chamber’s professional development opportunities.
“We have received counseling on the importance of managing cash flow and how to obtain small-business financing,” Ceballos wrote. “I am a firm believer that the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has improved not only my business and livelihood, but has helped a great deal of other Hispanic enterprises in our local community.”
In an interview, Oscar Cabello, Community Development Manager for Wells Fargo, said the rich business resources the Hispanic Chamber offers its members set it apart from similar organizations
“At Wells Fargo, our goal is to make sure that small businesses are succeeding,” Cabello said. “Mark and the Chamber have been able to find the opportunities to build revenue, decrease expenses and save jobs. If we could replicate what they do throughout the state, we could get out of this recession.”
Andrew Ysiano, 1992-96 Past President of the then Mexican American Chamber of Commerce said, “Where the organization is today is a dream for all past presidents. I commend Mark’s leadership and the current and past board members for establishing solid business programs, workshops, its business forecasts and most of all, reaching out to our Latino youth.”
Martinez has been CEO of the Hispanic Chamber for eight years, and one of his proudest accomplishments during that time, he says, as been the growth of the annual Bilingual Financial Aid and College Awareness Workshop.
Planned in collaboration with University of the Pacific, the event offers step-by-step assistance in filling out financial-aid documents, as well as seminars for parents and students on study habits, extracurricular activities and how to select courses with an eye toward college enrollment. Services are offered in English and Spanish, and in recent years, the event has drawn several thousand attendees.
According to Martinez, the workshop is critical, not just for the students involved, but for the economic health of the region.
“We are changing the lives of individuals,” he said. “You educate an individual, it changes a community. You reach the siblings, you reach the neighbors. It plants a seed for success.”
Martinez said the Hispanic Chamber will acknowledge the 40th anniversary milestone as part of its annual Awards Luncheon, scheduled for July 6. He hopes not just to recall the achievements of the past, but to look ahead toward the future, announcing new initiatives and new collaborations.
“In order for us to continue to be relevant, it’s important that we evolve with the times,” he said. “That takes committed vision, not just a handful of years out, but many years out.
By Jennifer Torres