The Latino Chamber of Commerce Receives National
Rolling with the Pandemic
Latino Chamber CEO Jessica Cavazos (c) holds the
chamber’s Hispanic Chamber of the Year award with Jorge
Antezana (l) and Xochilth Garcia (r)
issues came up once COVID-19 hit. We have a pretty resilient staff and a pretty powerful board. We decided that we would go into at that time productivity mode.
We went into productivity mode and Lighthouse Church provided volunteers to do wellness checks on our members. We had the Latino Consortium help us with
providing aid financially to our undocumented small businesses. We had WEDC that provided us a grant to sustain us for one month. Then we had the city of
Madison come through with another grant to sustain us for two months. We have really depended on government grants.”
And its constituency, Latino businesses, were depending on them.
“We served from March to August about 1,300 individuals via phone and via seminars on how to apply for PPP and to adjust their service models,” Cavazos
said. “That was like a 300 percent increase for us as a Chamber. We’ve gotten more businesses starting right now during these past two months than we have
had in the past year. We have an incubator program and that incubator right now has over 86 businesses for one class in this cohort. And there are two classes
in the cohort. These businesses are statewide. Not only are we serving Dane County, which is 60 percent of our businesses, but now we are also serving the rest
of the state. Those businesses are virtual-learning on how to keep their businesses’ doors open, business models, business ethics and all of that, which are
helping to mobilize new start-ups.”
Latino businesses were being impacted particularly hard because some — due to their status — were not eligible for federal assistance and many were
undercapitalized, thus not having the financial resources to weather the economic and pandemic storm that were impacting their businesses. And it impacted
different sectors in different ways.
“At the beginning, restaurants didn’t know how to operate within this environment and they were impacted the most,” Cavazos said. “I think now they are
adjusting how they are operating and increasing their catering and take-out services they didn’t have before this. Now they are introducing that to their public. I
know some that were severely impacted at the beginning have created a more mobile, functional model. He has daily specials where people are coming in. They
are picking up
food and now they are on the rebound. Our restaurants are figuring out how to operate and how to deliver.”
Those involved in retail trades were hit by a double whammy: not being considered essential services at first and dealing with a changing product marketplace.
“Some of our retail members are still suffering,” Cavazos said. “They have to compete with the Amazons of the world. There are different ailments for different
industries. Many people see that the frontline workers are Latino. There is a huge increase in cases within the Latino community because they are frontline
workers. They are in the trenches. And our job at the Chamber during the last four months is teach our business owners and community entities to offer masks
and social distancing as remedies to healing down the number of COVID-19 cases we have.”
And the personal services industry took a big blow the first two months of the pandemic, but have since recovered — almost.
“More than 70 percent of our small businesses had closed down,” Cavazos said. “Business owners had to figure out, ‘Do I get another job at this point? Since I
am not able to open, what do I do?’ They were really impacted. But now I think some of them are coming back. And of course, they have very strict guidelines.
They can only have a certain amount of people in their shops. There has to be social distancing. And they can only have one client at a time. They have to readjust
their operating model. We all know that when we go to the barbershop or the beauty salon, we sit down. We share stories. This new model is probably not the
model anyone is comfortable with. And so they did have to suffer and readjust and realign. And we are slowly seeing them reopen as well.”
The Chamber’s work during the pandemic earned them some well deserved attention from the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce earning them Hispanic
Chamber of the Year honors for a small Latino market. For Cavazos, she was receiving it on behalf of the community.
“It is amazing,” Cavazos exclaimed. “We are very humble. It has Chamber. We took a lot of hits. It was easy to get discouraged. If it weren’t for our community
and the community support and the support of Latino organizations and leaders, we wouldn’t have been able to accept that award or even have our doors open.”
Together, the Latino community will survive, succeed and grow. And the Wisconsin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will be there to guide that growth pandemic
or no pandemic.
By Jonathan Gramling
A measure of the success of any business enterprise is its ability to adjust to changes in its
environment. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit last March, the Latino Chamber of Commerce had to do
some serious adjusting in order to survive and still be relevant to the needs of Latino businesses in
its service area and beyond.
“The Chamber did go into survival mode,” said Jessica Cavazos, the CEO of the Latino Chamber,
which recently changed its name to the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce. “Not only were we
impacted financially — the Gala brings in close to $100,000 in revenue and that is almost half our
annual budget — we had to figure out how we were going to sustain ourselves. What were we going
to do? Would we cut staff? Do we cut services? Do we close our doors permanently? All of these