OK Hispanic Chamber a Possibility

Article excerpt

After several years of dialogue, Hispanic leaders in Oklahoma plan to unveil their own statewide chamber this year that will weigh in on major policy issues and reach out more effectively to the Hispanic businesses community.

The organization has its nonprofit certification, its office in southern Oklahoma City is being readied, and a membership drive is under way to collect funding. A more formal announcement about the new chamber could come in a few weeks.

The chamber's organizers include Hispanic business owners in Oklahoma City that aren't members of the Hispanic chamber there, as well as Hispanic chamber leaders in Tulsa. The identities of the group's officers haven't been released yet.

Hispanics are very entrepreneurial. They get into a lot of small businesses, and we just want an environment that is a little bit more open to small business development, said Fred Ramos, president of the Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who is helping to spearhead the statewide chamber.

Tulsa's Hispanic chamber was the first of its kind to form in the state in 1999, Ramos said, and Oklahoma City followed suit two years later. The chamber's membership in Tulsa grew through 2001, when the economy soured.

Businesses that had been giving the Tulsa Hispanic chamber as much as $5,000 per year cut their contributions sharply, stretching the chamber's resources.

With the statewide Hispanic chamber, Ramos wants to make sure a solid level of funding is in place.

We want to make sure this goes right, he said. There's an interest, so we're working on it to make sure.

The statewide chamber's plan is to offer services to Hispanic businesses, advocate on their behalf on issues like immigration reform and work force development, and serve as a reliable source of information on the Hispanic business community in Oklahoma, Ramos said.

There has been talk, on and off, about forming a statewide Hispanic chamber for years. In 2003, Oklahoma State University's Institute for Issue Management guided a discussion between Hispanic chamber leaders from Tulsa and Oklahoma City about forming such a chamber.

Weldon Schieffer, program manager for the institute, said he helped guide the discussion, which never did produce a statewide chamber.

There were some turf issues, and discussion about who's who, Schieffer said. Our goal was to just get people talking, and if we form (a Hispanic chamber), we will and if not, they've had a fair opportunity to communicate.

Kathryn L. Taylor, executive director of the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, said she's heard of plans to form a statewide Hispanic chamber and she doesn't have a problem with it.

We think there are a lot of needs that community has, and there needs to be a common voice for them, Taylor said. We think it's a positive. There is growing, diverse population in Oklahoma and we can't ignore it. We have to address it, she said.

Riding a wave of immigration from Mexico, Hispanic businesses are one of the fastest-growing sectors of the state's economy, statistics show. …