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Wadi A. Rodriguez, Independent business benefit consultant, independent contractor for Aflac, business process analyst
I have more than 15 years of experience as a business support manager and bilingual leader. I develop cross-cultural programming initiatives that improve outreach to the Hispanic business community. The main focus of my career has been to foster cross-cultural networks between the business sector and Hispanic and Latino community through program development, coordination, and outreach.
In working with Hispanic business owners throughout Mid-Missouri, I realized there is a lack of Latinx-centric business resources to support these businesses that are rapidly growing and contributing to local economies. At the same time, I realized that the non-Latinx businesses in the community want to connect to the Latino population and businesses, but they do not know how. They want to be welcoming to the Latinx community, but they need help in doing so. I think the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce could serve as a bridge between these two communities and foster cross-cultural dialogue, learning, and initiatives to better us all.
Our mission: “We are a network of Hispanic professionals dedicated to building sustainable business relationships that will create mutual financial empowerment among the diverse counties of Boone, Cole, and beyond.” We envision that the Hispanic chamber could be a launching pad for Hispanic entrepreneurs to create a supportive community that advances Hispanic businesses and the Hispanic community more broadly. We want to create opportunities for them that currently don’t exist.
A joint task force between the Columbia Chamber of Commerce and a Hispanic community citizens group has been formed to explore if and how to develop a Mid-Missouri Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. This partnership developed about six-months ago when the Hispanic community citizens group approached the chamber. The Columbia chamber has been interested in our group since the beginning and sees the value of supporting diverse businesses. Currently, the task force is engaged in outreach efforts and focus groups to gauge interest among Hispanic businesses owners and the broader community.
The Hispanic business community is vibrant and growing in Mid-Missouri. Boone County, in particular, has experienced rapid growth in its Hispanic population, ranking in the top 10 percent in the state for Hispanic population growth — since 2010, the Hispanic population in Boone County has grown by almost 25%. This growth is important for Missouri’s economic growth. In 2014, the Hispanic population in Missouri contributed $1.2 billion in income and paid $275.1 million in taxes.
The biggest challenge is integration between the non-Latino and Latino business communities. There are perceived cultural divides and trust challenges between these communities. For the Latino community, the current political climate, which is often hostile towards immigrants, can create fear and mistrust. For non-Latino businesses, there is often uncertainty surrounding language and culture in terms of how to connect with the Latino community.
The best way to support our efforts is to welcome, invite, and collaborate with different Hispanic and minority business owners to learn from them and to provide support. They can also talk with the different members of the joint task force to see how they can get involved and help us raise awareness of the importance and value of a Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
I have been a part of this community for the past seven years, and there are a lot of things that I’m proud of, but 1 Million Cups stands out. This was the launching pad to find out how the business community feels about having a minority group working to empower Hispanics in Mid-Missouri. The business community and the leadership of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, in particular, were very welcoming and supportive. This was a moment where I could see that we are stronger together.
The hope that we can build a stronger business community for Mid-Missouri that we could all benefit from. The support from the Hispanic community that wants integration but is unsure on where to start. My commitment to the Hispanic working group and Columbia Chamber of Commerce to explore the sustainable ways for us to make this group a reality.