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Rebooted Hispanic chamber grows despite lack of office, staff (w/video)

June 22, 2014 at 1:22 a.m.
Updated June 23, 2014 at 1:23 a.m.

Mario Garcia, left and Jessie Gonzales go over the results of La Camara de Comercio de Victoria/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's  Fiesta. Garcia served as Fiesta chairman and is  the chairman-elect of the Hispanic chamber.

La Camara de Comercio Victoria, otherwise known as the Hispanic chamber of commerce, is growing despite a lack of staff or a real home.

The chamber was rebooted in November 2012 and has more than 100 individual members and about 64 businesses, said Rick Villa, board member.

The original Hispanic chamber was founded in 1977, but it merged in October 2004 with the Victoria Chamber of Commerce, citing that members struggled to pay for membership to multiple organizations.

Five new members joined at Thursday's quarterly meeting.

"We're a new organization," said board chairman Chris Rivera of Rivera Real Estate. "We're not part of something that existed."

He said that the Victoria Chamber's minority advisory board wasn't meeting the needs of the Hispanic business community, and 35 businesses joined as soon as the Hispanic chamber was started.

The chamber's most recent event, Fiesta Victoria, brought in more than $25,000, and about 8,000 people attended, he said.

Part of its success could be attributed to interest in the business community, said Mario Garcia, board chairman-elect and fiesta chairman. It was April 5 at DeLeon Plaza.

Rivera said he was impressed with the turnout for a first-year event, which also had more than 100 volunteers.

The chamber also hosted a Valentine's Day dance, which raised $6,000.

"It was packed. We've been very fortunate," he said.

Board member Monica Rodriquez, branch manager of 1st Community Bank, said she decided to fill a vacant spot on the board after volunteering in the Fiesta event.

She hoped the membership would help promote the bank because the business is fairly new to the community, she said.

Recruitment efforts for the chamber are word-of-mouth, she added.

These are some of the challenges, said Rick Villa, who works for Workforce Solutions Golden Crescent.

Villa was part of the original group that restarted the chamber with its new name.

"We have some growing pains," he said. "We really need to focus on increasing our membership and awareness in the community."

The chamber has no full-time staff or office location.

Still, the group continues to grow. Rodriquez said the chamber plans to offer scholarships to local high school students.

Soon, the chamber will be able to afford a part-time staffer responsible for increasing membership. Rivera said he hopes to find someone who can communicate well within the business community while representing La Camara.

Membership in the chamber is a mix of established and new businesses, Villa said.

The chamber offers small business development advice and provides resources with the help of the University of Houston-Victoria's School of Business Administration. Business adviser Mark Martinez, who works with the university's Small Business Development Center Network, spoke during the last quarterly meeting. He addressed how to create a strong business plan and incorporating social media in marketing.

"That's something that's very valuable to a new business to survive," Villa said.

Jaime Solis said he has been a member since the chamber broke away from the Victoria chamber and has enjoyed attending the quarterly meetings. Solis is starting a Spanish-English entertainment TV show on Channel 7 called "Que Pasa Victoria." He said being part of the chamber has given him access to more experienced business owners.

"We all have the same goals," he said. "We want to help the community."



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