Chamber sees opportunities in Hispanic business growth

New Jersey’s Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was just five years ago deep in debt, leaderless and struggling to retain members and programs. Today, it has more than 2,500 members, which is more than any other chamber in the state. The volunteer who put in some 6,000 hours to get it there has received the 2017 Jefferson Award. Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey Chair Carlos Medina joins Senior Correspondent David Cruz.

Cruz: I haven’t seen you in a while. I think the last time I saw you was right around the time your name started to surface as a potential lieutenant governor candidate for Kim Guadagno. How real was that? How far did it go?

Medina: We had some pretty serious meetings. I think probably some differences on policy and opinions probably led her to picking Carlos Rendo. It’s good that there’s diversity on both tickets. I think that’s a positive at the end of the day.

Cruz: Any regrets? Do you look at Carlos Rendo like he was debating the other day?

Medina: Honestly, with the recent ad, I got a lot of calls with people literally saying “we’re happy you’re not on that ticket.”

Cruz: Have you taken a close look at that? Obviously you have to watch that race. How do you think it’s going right now?

Medina: I think it’s tight, which I predicted it would be.

Cruz: Tighter than what the polls say?

Medina: Yeah. But from a Hispanic business perspective, I think people are going to look at what individual and what value do they bring to their particular businesses?

Cruz: Can you look at these two and say that one’s better potentially for Hispanic business?

Medina: I think they’ve both been engaged, which is a positive. Kim has been to many of our events in her role as lieutenant governor and Phil Murphy reached out to us probably over a year ago and we did a little town hall with 30 members. I recall vividly him walking out and saying you guys really didn’t hold back on me, you were very tough with your questions, which he appreciated. I think at the end of the day, both will be good for New Jersey and businesses are going to look at what value is.

Cruz: Well, of course you’re going to say both will be good for New Jersey. But she has, at least in her role as secretary of state, with the charge of encouraging business growth, has had more direct connection to New Jersey business?

Medina: Yes, and she’s been to a lot of our events, definitely.

Cruz: Is there any policy position on either side that your organization, the New Jersey Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, would be opposed to?

Medina: We encourage investment in small businesses, educating small businesses and helping grow small businesses. I don’t know that either of them have spoken publicly about it, but each have privately spoken about the continuation of some of the grants that help spur entrepreneurship in New Jersey.

Cruz: Now, one of the criticisms of the Christie administration is these big, kind of tax incentives that have attracted large corporations to move sometimes 100 yards. You, I would imagine, would like to see more stimulus for small business?

Medina: We would, we would. I was formerly on the EDA board about 10 years ago, so I understand the value of attracting businesses, but you don’t want to give up the shop to do it. You really have to sit down and see what value it brings. And yes, quite often it’s at the detriment of a small business that’s not savvy enough to hire that attorney and go through the process of getting whatever the amount is per new employee brought to the state.

Cruz: There’s a recent study out by Bank of America that talks about the state of Hispanic business in New Jersey. What is the state of Hispanic businesses?

Medina: Well, good news, we’ve grown to 119,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in New Jersey. A guesstimate is that they contribute $20 billion a year to the New Jersey economy.

Cruz: What do these numbers find? Aside from that, the numbers are up, what are they finding about the level of confidence?

Medina: They’re optimistic. Hispanic businesses are optimistic that the economy is going to improve, that they’re going to hire new employees, that their revenue is going to grow. Many are doing it because they come here perhaps overqualified from their country of origin and they’d rather hang up their own shingle than work a job that they feel they’re not being compensated fairly.

Cruz: What Hispanic businesses are growing the most? What do we see?

Medina: Hospitality, food, professional services, engineers, lawyers, doctors.

Cruz: Are we moving beyond the concept of Hispanic bodegas?

Medina: Yeah, definitely. That’s a perception, but there’s a lot of professionals. If you come to one of our events, the level of business is quite savvy.

Cruz: How does a study like this, which shows all the arrows pointing upward, how do they affect the way you guys handle your business? Does it make it easier?

Medina: It makes it challenging because, I joke we’re juggling chainsaws, there’s so many issues coming at us rapidly. These are individuals who don’t have a Rolodex that someone who’s been here three, four generations would have, so we’re their mentor, we’re their Rolodex, we’re promoting them, we’re constantly trying to help them and they’re all different levels. There’s the one person shop, and then there might be an individual that has 20 employees, but he wants to get to $10 million in revenue, $15 million in revenue. So there’s a lot of different needs and we try to be everything for the members.

Cruz: Alright, Carlos Medina, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, not running for lieutenant governor this time around, thanks for coming in. Good to see you.

Medina: Thank you. Likewise.