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Hispanic chamber forms, raising questions (video)


Feb. 20, 2013 at 9 p.m.
Updated Feb. 20, 2013 at 8:21 p.m.

Noeyla Vidal talks with customers Jesse and Orfilia Gomez, of Port Lavaca, at her business, Mi Tierra Mexican Bakery, on Wednesday. Vidal and her business partner have yet to decide if they are going to join the Victoria Chamber of Commerce or La Camara de Comericio de Victoria, a Hispanic chamber of commerce.  "When I got to Victoria nobody wanted to speak to me in Spanish. It's a lot easier for me to express myself in Spanish, so maybe that will be one of the big advantages if there's Hispanic people, some things I can't get across in English I will be able to say in Spanish," she said of joining the Hispanic chamber over the traditional one.

After a nearly 10-year absence, a Hispanic chamber of commerce is once again needed to serve a growing Victoria, organizers said.

La Camara de Comercio de Victoria - Spanish for the Victoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce - recently got its start to serve the city's business community.

Still, it's a decision some call into question.

The addition of a third chamber - the Victoria Chamber of Commerce and African-American Chamber of Commerce of Victoria already call the city home - proved a hot-button issue, as many people declined to go on record regarding the need for the organization.

Randy Vivian, president and CEO of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong declined comment regarding the issue.

"I know that the Hispanic chamber merged with the Greater Victoria chamber a good number of years ago," Armstrong said. "I don't know enough about the new Hispanic chamber to assess the need for that organization, and so I'd rather not comment."

The Victoria Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was originally founded in 1977 and saw success through the years, including recognition as the Texas Association of Mexican-American Chambers of Commerce's Hispanic Chamber of the Year three times, according to Advocate records. In October 2004, however, the organization joined with the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

Chris Rivera, the new group's interim chairman - and past chairman of the original Hispanic chamber - said he did not know why the group originally folded.

"I served many years in different capacities, but I sort of went on and did other things," he said. "There was new leadership at the time, and I'm sure they had good reasons."

The new group's goal is to offer Hispanic business owners a chance to network with other businesses, develop leadership skills and better promote companies' products and services, said Emett Alvarez, the group's interim secretary.

"The Hispanic business community is a growing community in Victoria," said Alvarez, who also worked with the original Hispanic chamber. "We are seeing numerous Hispanic businesses start up throughout the city and county, and so I think it's timely."

Rivera agreed, noting the up-and-coming organization is a way to fill a need felt by area business owners.

"The drums have been beating for three plus years," he said. "I've heard it over and over that we need our own chamber. So finally a group said, 'We'll do it.'"

Although the chamber remains in its planning stages, Rivera said more than 50 members have already joined on.

Rivera and Vivian did not have statistics regarding the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in Victoria, but census data shows 44.5 percent of Victoria County's population is of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Noelya Vidal is co-owner of Mi Tierra Mexican Bakery, which opened in December. Although the business has not yet joined any chambers, she said she would consider taking part in the Hispanic organization.

It can be difficult for a new business to find its footing, she said, and the group would mean more options for herself and other Hispanic business owners.

"It's someone to speak for us," she said. "I think it's good."

Lewis Goode, who served as executive vice chairman with the African-American Chamber of Commerce of Victoria before moving to Houston, said there are benefits to housing more than one chamber in a town.

Lew's Barber Shop, the business he operated on Village Drive, saw new customers as African-American chamber members patronized the business and spread word about the shop.

Still, Goode said, there's no reason all three entities can't work under one umbrella for a common goal.

"It's like having private schools and public schools," he said. "It's the same concept."

Rivera said the Hispanic chamber is still in its planning stages but will host its first membership meeting Feb. 28 inside UHV's Multi-Purpose Room, 3007 N. Ben Wilson St. The group is open to everyone, he said, including those involved with the city's other chambers.

"Quite frankly, what we want to do is make our businesses successful and create more business in this community," Rivera said. "And I think everybody can profit from that."



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