Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read August 2021 — The contribution of the Hispanic community to the South Florida region goes well beyond economic metrics. Lilliam Lopez, president and CEO of the South Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke with Invest: about the local Hispanic community’s involvement in the region’s economic rebound, highlighting the role of Latina women, in particular.
How has the Chamber been able to help small businesses over the last year?
We have been fortunate to be able to hold live events again, after an intense virtual phase. We have been doing live luncheons since October 2020 with many precautions. Recently we held our annual Hispanic Leadership Awards and in July presented a Legislative Debrief, in the form of a lunch panel discussion for advocacy purposes. We brought in two state reps and one senator — two Republicans and a Democrat. As a chamber of commerce, we are nonpolitical. However, we do want to have a balance and introduce perspectives from all angles. We need to work together, both parties. We’re looking to create that synergy and that connection with our members. These types of events do well because the members need to know what is happening at the legislative level.
In October 2020, we were able to give 14 small businesses grants of $1,400 thanks to funding from a company that helped us. We are also working on elevating the profile of Hispanics and of Hispanic women because the latter are way below the levels of representation they should be. We are not represented in top leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies and boards.
We have also partnered with Office Depot as one of five Hispanic chambers in the United States. The joint program is called Elevate Together. As a result, small businesses that are members of our chamber received $10,000 each in the first round. Now we are presenting the second round of grants, two of $5,000 each.
What is your overall take on the PPP loans and forgiveness process?
We worked closely with the director of the SBA who participated in our PPP-related webinars, along with several banks. It’s a lengthy process. The SBA is great at what it does, but there is only so much it can do. Banks had to really provide businesses with the information that they needed. Businesses, in turn, had to work closely and carefully with their CPAs to prepare the tons of information required through the entirety of the process. For the older business owners, who are not quite technologically versed, it was critical for us to gain access to their traditional sources of information, such as the radio because they were Zoom-averse in the beginning. We are working to get the ball rolling on the forgiveness process as several businesses have reached out because they’re worried that they have not heard back from their banks. The pandemic has been hard enough, and things were rough for small businesses, so we’re trying to support them in any way we can to help them get through the forgiveness process.
What have been the challenges for female Latina business leaders during the economic recovery?
We play a very important role in our communities because as Hispanics, we are very much family oriented. We take care of our parents. Our grandparents take care of the little ones. However, that does not mean that we don’t want to succeed. Female Latina business leaders are smart, capable and they work hard. Yet, they are not being represented. It takes years for top companies to recognize Hispanic women leaders for what they do for their communities and to elevate them. Our board of directors is fully behind the chamber’s intentions of elevating Hispanic women. We’re working on initiatives to improve Hispanic women’s representation in the workplace. If what we contributed to the U.S. economy as a whole was made into a country, we would be only behind France in terms of GDP. It’s time to speak up. We applaud the fact that African-Americans have made it a point to be noticed, and they are. Hispanics have not been able to send that message across. We do not see Hispanic anchors in the major networks. Hispanic representation and success in Hollywood do not match our demographics.
What is the state of the city’s reopening process?
We have members that are very concerned because everybody is understaffed while the salaries being offered pay well. It’s worrisome because this eventually will create some type of inflation. People want to continue to be paid more and maybe their contributions or their knowledge do not reflect that high salary. Since there is no one else to do the work, employees have to be paid more. That affects the bottom line, which in turn affects consumer prices. Eventually, that could create inflationary pressures. We assume, after experiencing the terrible effects of the pandemic, that people would rather get paid less via the financial aids rolled out by the government and have more time with family and loved ones or to move away from the crazy lives they used to live while at work. Some jobs make your life primarily focused on work, work, work. In parallel, that creates a talent availability problem. Businesses need people to go back to work. Property owners are also having difficulty navigating rent moratoriums, especially when it comes to mortgage payments.
What is your outlook for the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the local Hispanic business environment?
The outlook is encouraging, and our community continues to stand behind us and commend us on the job we are doing. They are proud that they count on an organization that has not abandoned its members, has not shied away from doing what needed to be done to support our members. They felt our love and our desire to help them succeed; our willingness to reach out to them and stand by them in these difficult times. The pandemic is scary but, at the same time, we must continue with our lives, with extreme caution. We must take care of ourselves. We must do what it is we have to do to protect our families, children and community members. Let’s concentrate our efforts on the good things that we need to do for our country and for the future generations that will take the leadership roles.
For more information, visit: