The Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce: Business Is Opportunities

Latino Chamber of Commerce

Jorge Antezama, the new executive director of the Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce at their facility on Anton Drive in Madison near Verona Road.

By Jonathan Gramling

For Jorge Antezana, executive director of the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce, working with Latino businesses is both a vocation and an avocation.

“I am a systems engineer in the computer science field,” Antezama said. “I also have an MBA. I have other trainings and certifications. But I am a certified SCORE mentor in Madison. Recently I observed five years working to support Latinos in Dane County. I was teaching
at Madison College at the same time. I worked for several years providing advice and consulting services for Latino businesses across Dane County through SCORE. I do it to help the community.”

When Jessica Cavazos resigned as executive director to take a position with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Antezama was selected by the board to lead the Chamber, which has grown from very humble beginnings with one part-time staff and the board pulling a lot of the programming weight to now where it has eight full-time staff and 6-7 part-time staff and operates out of a relatively large office building on Anton Drive off of Verona Road.

It was founded as the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County back in the early 2000s. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything for them, giving them unforeseen business opportunities and leading them to change their name to Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce.

“When COVID-19 came, we decided to move to the internet to provide the services,” Antezama said. “This led the Chamber to expand its services across Wisconsin and not just Dane County. We are in every county that requests the services of the Chamber. We hired three people who are working part-time for the Chamber. One is in Platteville, one in Janesville and one in Green Bay. But we have a plan for 2024 to expand the services in Green Bay to Sheboygan and other places in that area. The idea is to expand the services across the state. DOA is a great

resource that we have now. We are very, very happy with the financial resources that we receive from them because this allows us to provide services across the state.”

The expansion of the services was also made possible by ARPA funds granted to the Chamber by the WI Dept. of Administration.

“We provide face-to-face services for the people who come into the Chamber through appointments,” Antezana said. “Also for sure, we use software to meet with businesses across the state as well. We have programs and services running in both platforms. We have one-on-one meetings with people via the internet. Sometimes people need to have one-on-one meetings because they need to talk about things that are very confidential. We have workshops and classes where we meet with groups of people at the same time.”

There are five mainstay Chamber programs to promote business development.

“We have our Tu Empresa Program where we graduated 120 new business owners,” Antezana said. “We have other programs like Futuro. It’s an initiative to provide a new childcare businesses in the
market. We are talking about 15-18 new businesses. Also we have a program called Secndero. This is for young people 15-25-years-old. We started to run the program in 2022. Now we have a cohort where we graduated close to 30 new entrepreneurs. The Chamber is now providing certification for people who want to open a business in the food service sector through SERVSAFE. Also we provide Quickbooks training for people to manege their businesses financially. In 2024, we want to start to provide OSHA certification classes to businesses as well.”

Human resources is an area with many governmental rules and guidelines that the average worker turned business owner would naturally become familiar with. The Chamber is looking to offer training in this area as well.

“We are planning with Madison College to offer something in HR,” Antezama said. “I know that people need to improve their skills to hire people and have a better human resource approach, a better administration with their staff, better hiring processes and knowing how to pay their employees. We are going to start to provide more information on that in the following months.”

And the Latino Chamber has become a hub for others to reach Latino businesses with people using their facilities to reach the businesses.

“We had a workshop here,” Antezana said. “The secretary off the Dept. of Administration came in and we celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month. People came and were able to ask questions about  the department with program staff providing information about their services provided by DOA.”

While it appeared that Latino businesses focused on the restaurant and service industries, it is now expanding into many areas.

“Now, they are developing businesses in consulting services, financial services, food services, construction services, cleaning services and other areas,” Antezama emphasized. “We have people coming from a low educational background and also professional people and people who have more financial resources. We provide services to all of them. We try to merge all of the people who come from the different Latin American countries. We provide services to all of them. We provide services to people from many different statuses and backgrounds. We have businesses that started with a small company, working from home and now these businesses have an office, employees and provide a lot of services to the market. Their gross sales increase. We have different levels of developing businesses. Some of them are small. Some are in the growing process. They are in different stages of development. We provide services for all of them. Usually people come to find out how to start a business, training programs for business management and other technical areas as well.”

The Chamber is looking to develop more long-term relationships with the businesses so that the businesses know that the Chamber is always there to help guide and train them.

“We are working on the retention process because usually people come, receive support and then they leave,” Antezana said. “But we are trying to build out a retention program to offer more classes and certifications to provide to members. In the beginning, there were more calls and they needed more technical support. But in the process, as they grow the business, they learn more about the process. They request a lot of support. But all the time, we try to be in contact with all of them to figure out the best way to help the businesses. If all of the community wants our services, it’s at no cost. No membership is necessary for the majority of the people who come into the Chamber.”

Along with the programming, the Chamber’s membership has also grown. While several years ago, it was around 150 paid members, it has now blossomed to 550-600 paid members. While many of these are Latino businesses, there are also members who want to lend support and others who view the Chamber as a vehicle to enter the Latino market with their own goods and services.

“Seventy percent of the people who come into the Chamber request support,” Antezama said. “Thirty percent come to expand their contacts and networks. They need to know more people to try to do business with them and expand their services. They also come to the Chamber to offer services through membership. But the majority come to request technical support for their businesses. A benefit that the Chamber has is that we provide direct access to the market because we talk the same language and we can connect with other institutions, organizations and members. The Chamber is connected to the people.”

While it is always in search of money beyond the WI DOA, the city of Madison, Dane County, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and private corporations, the Wisconsin Latino Chamber is stable.

“I think we are in very good shape,” Antezama said. “We are a good resource for Latino businesses across the state. We have a great board of directors. The chair of the board is Marcio Sierra. He is the pastor of the Lighthouse Church. We have other members who are accountants, directors for MMSD and , journalists and real estate people. We have eight members now. The board is involved in the Chamber’s operations.”

Jorge Antezana and the staff of the Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce stand ready to provide services to Latino businesses and others. Antezana emphasized that the services are free and they are given with a passion by people who care about Latino business growth and development.