U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to hold conference in Orlando for the first time
The the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the organization's local branch in Metro Orlando celebrated a partnership that will bring their annual conference to the City Beautiful next month. Smiles, the smell of breakfast, and vibrant conversations filled the DeVos Family Room at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando on Tuesday morning, as the groups announced the upcoming event.
The event will be the organization's 44th conference, yet the first time it is taking place in Orlando — where the population is about 37% Hispanic.
Community leaders like Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and former Florida Congresswoman Val Demings took the stage during a press conference to help kickoff the milestone moment.
The partnership aims to stimulate Hispanic-owned businesses in the area and create millions of jobs statewide.
Gaby Ortigoni, president and CEO of the Orlando branch, said the connections formed at the event will give local Hispanic entrepreneurs the boost they need to stay competitive.
“That’s the importance of being part of organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, here or anywhere else,” Ortigoni said. “Because not only do you get opportunities to expand your business and access to meet a lot of people, but you also get access to a lot of business resources that, unfortunately, a lot of times, Hispanics don’t take advantage of.”
The event will bring over 3,000 attendees to Orlando-area restaurants, hotels, and services. For those signing up, there will be opportunities for contracting, matchmaking, and doing business with Fortune 500 companies, as well as the U.S. Government. The event will also feature talks, workshops, training, and network building through connections.
The announcement to bring the event to Central Florida comes at a time when several conferences have pulled out of the Orlando metro area in protest of Florida’s political climate, which has cost the region millions in revenue.
Ramiro Cavazos, president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said the decision was made months before Florida passed S.B. 1718, legislation that targets immigrants and their employers. Regardless, he said the chamber’s decision would have likely not been affected.
While the organization rejects policies that attack the immigrant community, Cavazos said they also refuse to feed into a single moment — a moment that would eventually pass, as they all do. Meanwhile, the history and influence of immigrants in the U.S., past and future, would remain.
“What they’re trying to limit is unstoppable. This energy is unstoppable. Laws are not going to change immigration in the world,” Cavazos said. “Everybody came here, from Germany, from Ireland, Italy, México, Venezuela, Asia — that’s the beauty of what’s created the largest and strongest economy in the world.”
Still, Cavazos said, their decision did not come without the critique of some members and outside groups. Yet not showing up to Florida at this time would be like punishing Hispanics who live here when they need their community’s support the most.
“If we had followed what other people were saying to cancel or boycott or to move it to another city, we’d only be hurting our Latino community and our Black community,” Cavazos said. “Those actions would not serve any valuable purpose other than affect the people of Florida that are good people. And we are here because this is where we belong, and we need to remind people that Latinos are the future of this nation.”
Both Ortigoni and Cavazos said one of the Chamber's goals is to uplift local Hispanic businesses so that the prosperity reaches far and is felt all the way through to more economically depressed areas, such as housing and job insecurities.
Ortigoni said the Hispanic minority deserves its own chance to prosper and build generational wealth. Then, thriving businesses can extend help and invest back into their communities.
“We do need to get involved locally, we want more people involved,” she said. “That’s how we make a difference. That’s how we have a voice. The moment we start doing that is the moment we start realizing that it’s not just what we can receive. It’s also what we can give to support our community.”
Cavazos, a longtime community advocate, said the issues facing working families, children, the elderly, and the disabled nationwide have not gone unnoticed. The board is well aware of gentrification and rising housing costs that threaten socioeconomic progress for vulnerable community members.
“It’s really difficult for a family or a child to feel safe and comforted in that environment. It’s bigger than people think it is. It sets the table for the rest of their lives,” he said. “So, for me, economic prosperity in older neighborhoods is a good thing. It’s bringing Latinos and Latinas the economic opportunity in urban cores that has historically shut down, as everything moved to the suburbs.”
According to Cavazos, 10% of jobs in the U.S. are created by immigrant-owned businesses.
Nationally, the economic output of Hispanics exceeds $2.8 trillion, according to a report by the Latino Donor Collaborative.
In Florida, the HCC said, the Latinx community contributes about $90 billion to the economy in labor and entrepreneurship and has a spending power of about $66.4 billion.
“It’s really just showing what’s happened that people don’t know about,” said Evelyn Barahona, senior vice president of the Educational Fund at the USHCC. “We’re here to celebrate and amplify what exists here — to grow and nurture that economic entrepreneurial spirit. And also, just to make sure Orlando understands that the city’s large economic impact cannot be done without the Hispanic community.”
Other reasons the event is coming to Orlando include the region's tourism, population growth, and Central Florida’s aerospace program.
This is one of the “obvious” aspects that Synthia Jaramillo, USHCC vice president of corporate relations, said attracted the chamber most.
“One of our key focuses at our national conference is technology, and because this is Space Coast it was one of the reasons we are so excited to bring this to Orlando,” she said.
The event is scheduled to begin Sunday, Sep. 24, and goes through Tuesday, Sep. 26 at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort. Anyone interested in attending can register here.
Lillian Hernández Caraballo is a Report for America corps member.