The Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has been around for 27 years, but the Lyndhurst-based organization has only now been able to hire an executive director. NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams recently sat down with Jazlyn Carvajal.
Williams: What does it mean for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to have it’s first executive director ever?
Carvajal: It means that we’re growing and we’re doing really well. To be able to bring in an executive director means that we’re moving in the right direction.
Williams: And they’re bringing in an insider. You’ve been volunteering with the chamber for a very long time. Tell me about what you’ve learned through doing that?
Carvajal: One, you know our new hashtag is familia and it really is a familia, it’s a family environment. The team that is working every day, day in and day out to put together events, to make the right connections for entrepreneurs so that they can become a family. I think that is why I continued my volunteered role for so long. I initially came in in 2014 to help with the annual expo and I really enjoyed it, I loved it. I loved meeting everyone, every event we do the excitement that it is to network at our events.
Williams: But this takes it from a volunteer organization, to a really professional one where you’re the executive director running things. What is your vision for what it can be?
Carvajal: Well my vision is to continue the growth. We started an entrepreneurial training program last year in 2015. We’re running one right now, a second version of the entrepreneurial program and I want to grow it. I would love for the chamber right now, we’re at the Fuse Collaboration Work Space at Bergen Community College, we have a partnership with them and we want to build that center to be an one stop shop. Our entrepreneurs, our members can come there for advice, business coaching, mentoring, find the services, there’s collaborative space, co-working space and it’d be great to grow the chamber where… right now with the way that we provide mentorship is on a one-on-one, hey let’s meet for coffee. Carlos does a lot, our Vice Chairman Louisa Lajos does a lot of mentoring with a lot of our companies. But now we have a space, let’s build a space where we can actually provide real mentor services for businesses.
Williams: Do you foresee a real accelerator program where you can bring venture capitalists in to provide capital?
Carvajal: Absolutely, absolutely.
Williams: Who are you recruiting as entrepreneurs coming into this space and work with you?
Carvajal: Hispanic small business owners and those Hispanics that are interested in starting their own businesses. We’re going into communities like Hudson County, Bergen County, Passaic County. We did an incubator, I mean we did a entrepreneurship program in Trenton as well. We’re looking at northern and central and we’re going into communities that are predominantly Hispanic and recruiting people who are interested in starting something or they’ve already started their businesses.
Williams: What do Hispanic business owners represent to the state’s economy?
Carvajal: They represent $12 billion.
Williams: And it’s everything from Goya Foods to…?
Carvajal: Your bodegas, your restaurants, attorneys, architects, engineers. You see it all.
Williams: Why are Latinas in particular under represented in this group?
Carvajal: I think we’re under represented in many groups. As you know I also co-founded a nonprofit organization called Latinas in STEM and we’re 2 percent of the STEM population and STEM is science, technology, engineering and math. In these fields, this is the fastest growing field and also the most affluent where you’re going get the best return in. You look at any report today and what college majors are getting the best return on investment and those are the STEM fields.
Williams: But women generally speaking are a smaller percentage of people who are working in STEM fields?
Williams: Do Latinas represent that same all female?
Williams: And how do you get them more interested?
Carvajal: They are interested. It’s about saying, “Hey, what are your ideas? Let’s come to the table come on board.”
Williams: Is there anything cultural in the Hispanic culture that makes it more difficult to enter? Early on all of the big .coms were considered sort of fraternities. It was very tough for women to break in. Now, of course they have broken in in numbers in the last decade or so. Is there something in the culture that prevents women from getting in?
Carvajal: I don’t think it’s something about the culture. I really think it’s a perception that women, because they’re primary caregivers, they’re the mothers, they are the ones who stay at home and I think it’s a concept that has even corporate America and business. It’s not just the .coms, the technology have this perception that women are the ones that have to stay at home or normally are the one who stay at home, the caregivers. So they’re going to be the first ones that need time off because I need to take care of my child, I need to go home, you know and be home on time to be able to cook dinner. So I think it’s that perception and I think it’s a perception because I think a lot of women are able to balance it. There’s a lot of mommy entrepreneurs. Women that are starting businesses right out of their homes.
Williams: The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is businesses who are going to be affected by whoever becomes president. We’re in the middle of this really interesting presidential election. Do Hispanic businesses have a particular interest? Have a dog in the fight here?
Carvajal: Well I think what makes this country interesting is the fact that we’re able to have two divergent candidates. We accept them and we build these great conversations and it’s a great side of how diverse our country is.
Williams: So this is not a voting bloc?
Williams: What you’re saying is Hispanics are not a voting bloc?
Carvajal: The Hispanics are definitely a voting bloc. Absolutely.
Williams: But they won’t necessarily vote for one candidate exclusively instead of the other one?
Carvajal: I think that Hispanics look at just every other American voting citizen. They’re looking at candidates and they’re having, they’re involved in the conversation. They have divergent opinions and that’s what makes it great. That’s what makes this country great, we’re so diverse.
Williams: Where do you see the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in five years?
Carvajal: I see the Hispanic Chamber in five years having a space. An actual space, an incubator space on their own where they’re helping businesses grow. They’re helping Latino businesses grow, they’re a resource for all Latino businesses across the state, they are doubled in size — right now we’re at 2,400 members. I totally see us at 5,000 and we’re now across the street.
Williams: And across the state. In fact non-Hispanic members make up 45 percent of the Hispanic Chamber.
Carvajal: That is correct.
Williams: How do you account for that?
Carvajal: And that is because they know what the power of the Hispanic population is. We’re the majority of the minorities and we contribute $12 billion to the economy. They know what our power is. What our market power is. So they want to be able to work with the Latino community, they want to work with the Hispanic business, obtain them as vendors.
Williams: Great. Jazlyn Carvajal, thanks for being here.
Carvajal: Thank you. Thank you for having me.