Editorial: A challenge for Dallas Hispanic chamber

The Dallas Morning News

The Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is one of those great legacy organizations known more for its pioneering history than for modern-day accomplishments. When it marks its diamond jubilee in just three years, its iconic status will be burnished even more.

Unfortunately, the status as the region’s longest-reigning Latino business group is not enough to guarantee success. Even defenders of the chamber acknowledge privately that the business group has at times strayed from its mission and not done nearly enough to retain and boost its membership. The proliferation of other Hispanic chambers is often, and accurately, cited as evidence of dysfunction.

When David L. Gonzales abruptly resigned last week as chief executive, questions about the chamber’s current and future stability were inevitable. Gonzales, who had impressive credentials, was hired after a tumultuous and lengthy national search that included a very public split within the chamber’s board.

Gonzales and the board’s chairman, Angel L. Reyes III, did their best to allay any concerns over the sudden departure, which occurred less than a year after the chief executive was named with great fanfare. The strategy was to declare mission accomplished, a very hard sell given the shockingly short tenure. Not surprisingly, the many detractors of the chamber were quick to offer theories on what may have gone wrong and why.

None of that is helpful. The chamber should be a major player in the region. That it isn’t — or that it is easily dismissed by some — is not good for anyone, least of all Hispanic businesses that could use an influential voice on their behalf. There are between 40,000 and 70,000 Latino businesses in the region, the vast majority small entrepreneurs who could benefit from the chamber’s guidance and leadership to grow and prosper.

Over the last year, the chamber put in place a new economic development program to help small entrepreneurs. It’s too early to determine how it will fare, but Gonzales and the board deserve credit for declaring this initiative a priority. It counters the impression that the chamber is too beholden to its corporate members, if successful, it could persuade other small businesses to join.

The chamber has about 520 paying members, which is far too low given the business demographics of the region. One of the challenges for the leadership is to convince the public that it is finally on the right track. That is no easy task withthe perceptions of dysfunction that linger in the community. One way to begin to address this is by conducting an efficient and conflict-free search for a chief executive who can expand on the promising work done this year.

Dallas Hispanic Chamber

Mission statement: “To develop, promote and protect Hispanic businesses in the greater Dallas area and to support the advancement, education and economic growth of the Hispanic business community. The chamber shall serve as a business resource, a forum and advocate for Hispanic business issues and a united voice for the Hispanic business community.”

Membership: About 520 pay dues, but officials place the number of members at over 1,000.

Area Hispanic businesses: Estimates range from 40,000 to 70,000.

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