Writer: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read September 2021 — Minority-led businesses are still reeling from the ripple effects of the pandemic and will require all the opportunities and assistance available to build up their long-term resilience. Yuri Cunza, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, spoke with Invest: and shared his vision for the area’s Latino community. “The Hispanic community is quite determined to succeed, be it in business or the workplace,” he said.
What is the state of minority-owned businesses in the Greater Nashville area?
Our Hispanic community is empowered. The Hispanic community represents almost 19% of the country’s population; more than 62 million Hispanics out of 333 million. In Tennessee, the last census reported close to 479,187 Hispanics, with, conservatively speaking, 100,000 of them residing in the Nashville area. Our population of Hispanic entrepreneurs in Nashville alone totals over 1,500.
The pandemic has proven to be a teachable moment, a learning process that highlighted the pressing needs of our community. We carried out a technical assistance program in 2020 to guide those who wanted to take advantage of the CARES Act funding through the PPP loans. For most of the Hispanic individuals who are business owners, it might have been their only choice, their only option for their livelihood because they needed to sustain their family, sometimes outside the country. They put all the chips in that business; they can’t afford failure.
What is the significance of Tennessee’s trading partnerships with Latin America?
Mexico is a strong partner and always has been, standing second only to China nationwide. Border issues and border trade is an issue of utmost interest for our organization. Our organization belongs to a coalition called One Border. Our chamber’s state is the only one that does not border Mexico but we need to be on top of what happens there. I am a proud member of the Tennessee Advisory Board for the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition and a board member of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which represents the interests of about 5 million Hispanic owned businesses in the United States and a network of 260-plus Hispanic chambers. It gives us an opportunity to learn more about what is happening beyond Nashville. Our board of directors cares about what the future may bring to our community here. It has been an exciting journey in a way but we remain concerned that it will be a long time before we all get back to where we were before.
What do you anticipate going forward regarding the growth of the Latino community?
The Hispanic community is quite determined to succeed, be it in business or the workplace. We get calls from companies that are eager to recruit from the Hispanic community. Their quality as employees and workers is widely recognized. It is a dependable, loyal workforce and companies wish to grow their Hispanic ranks within their companies. The community will continue to capitalize on the opportunities available to continue growing, including the new DACA wave granting the opportunity to work or go to college.
As our Hispanic community continues to grow, we will continue our efforts to highlight their work ethic and overall reliability. The Hispanic community is a key segment of the market which understands and appreciates the reward that comes with hard work and dedication, determination and resilience. We have an opportunity to give a voice to a community that may not necessarily have those opportunities available. We have recently launched a program for advancement and empowerment through digital tools for Latino entrepreneurs, with a focus on engaging Hispanic women entrepreneurs from our local market. Nashville still needs representation in government, business and leadership, not just at the bottom of the pyramid. Opportunities should not be limited to the hard, low-paying jobs that nobody wants to do. The Hispanic community is talented and hardworking, able to excel if given the opportunity. We want to play a role as the platform that provides such opportunities.
America holds the promise of the land where dreams come true. It has a deeply ingrained notion as the land of opportunity where if you work hard, stick to it and respect everyone else, you can make your dreams happen, ultimately benefiting everyone in our communities. That is the message that we want to advance for the Hispanic community. Our organization will continue working to keep that dream alive, living up to the ideals of prosperity that the United States emanates across the world and in Latin America in particular.
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