Ramiro Cavazos wasn’t particularly looking at taking the helm of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC.) Sure, the Rio Grande Valley native and 7th generation Texan was a corporate veteran of Levi Strauss and held several positions in public service before becoming president and CEO of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and was busy with that. But when the top job at USHCC was offered in 2018, the University of Texas and St. Mary’s University graduate jumped at the chance and hasn’t looked back.

At the USHCC, which has a network of more than 250 local chambers and business associations nationwide and is headquartered in Washington, D.C., Cavazos has focused on what he calls the “three Cs” – more opportunities for capacity building, more opportunities for connections, and more opportunities for capital. That is front-and-center at the organization’s annual legislative summit, taking place this week in the nation’s capital where more than 500 USHCC members are connecting with Biden administration officials and legislators. 

“We want to make sure we get our fair share of the economic pie. We want them (elected officials and the Biden administration) to make sure that we get our fair share of that infrastructure money, contracts, and that lending continues to get stronger. We’re very optimistic that both (political) parties know the importance of small business to grow the economy. And we’re also doing some matchmaking – connecting members with buyers,” Cavazos said.

The largest “buyer” by far is the U.S. federal government – the largest in the world. Last year, President Biden signed an executive order directing every federal agency and department to set 15 percent as a targeting goal for contracting and doing business with Latino- and Latina-owned businesses, and one of the items on the legislative summit agenda is to see where everything stands right now. 

“We’re (currently) at 1.7 percent in overall federal contracting. That goal was signed over a year ago and we want to get an update on where those departments are stacking up. We feel as taxpayers that it is a very fair ask and we want to see where they’re at with this federal executive order; how are we achieving those goals. There is so much money that is being provided to the private sector by the taxpayers and we want to make sure that it’s touching the Latino- and Latina-owned business sector in a big way and invested in our community, and how it’s all being implemented,” he said. 

Cavazos points to a recent procurement meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy which focused on supplier diversity, and not a single Latino group was present. 

“We reached out (afterward) to them and they said they want to participate at the legislative summit and at our other events, so at least there’s something when before there was nothing,” he said. 

There is plenty of evidence that shows how crucial Latino-owned businesses are to the United States. They are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy – 84 percent of businesses that started in the last 10 years were owned by Latinos and Latinas, and those businesses are founded at six times the national rate. There are five million Latina- and Latino-owned businesses in the country contributing more than $800 billion to the economy annually, but there is still a lot of catching up to do, said Cavazos, alluding to not only the anemic percentage of federal contracts awarded to Latino-owned businesses but also the continuing struggle for capital. 

“We’re getting evidence post-pandemic, for instance, that Latino-owned businesses have better credit scores and more money in the bank, higher gross sales, but are still not receiving the loans from our major banking institutions. They’re getting approved for loans but for $50,000 and below. Fifty-thousand dollars and above is where it really matters in scaling businesses or growing them. We’ve done surveys of our members that our (loan) approval rates are lower, or the amounts when they are approved are not at the level that they’re asking for,” he said.

That is another key component of the legislative summit – ensuring greater access to capital by telling those decision-makers that it would behoove them to pay greater attention to Latino- and Latina-owned businesses and ensure that the fastest-growing segment of the business community has all the tools it needs to succeed, he explained. 

The USHCC is also part of Proyecto 20%, a coalition of national Latino groups advocating for a greater number of Latinos in senior-level positions in the Biden administration. While Cabinet positions are more high profile (the current Cabinet has three Latino/a members, and one Latina in a Cabinet-level position) there are nearly 5,000 presidential appointments that include some of the key deputy directors and assistant secretary posts which involve overseeing day-to-day operations and policy development at the agency and departmental levels.

While Latinos and Latinas have filled several of those positions, the numbers compared to the community’s percent of the U.S. population is dismal. “We have had meetings with members of the administration. The 10 percent (Latinos comprise 10 percent of Latinos in the White House) is not acceptable,” said Cavazos. “We need not just Cabinet-level people, we want to get to 20 percent…President Biden said he wants to improve on that. We believe this administration is listening to us.”

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Raised in Puerto Rico, Patricia Guadalupe is a bilingual multimedia journalist based in Washington, D.C., covering the capital for both English and Spanish-language media outlets. She is also an adjunct...