Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida embracing all nationalities
ORLANDO, FL — The Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida’s executive board has a “clear and precise vision” of embracing not only businesses and professionals coming from Puerto Rico, but small entrepreneurs of all nationalities seeking to establish themselves in Central Florida.
Jorge H. Figueroa, president of the nonprofit entity — which has been in existence for more than 20 years — emphasized that the mission is to be the voice of small businesses in Central Florida and the developer of its members in the region. This organization has six “Lead Groups” in Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties.
“We want to remember that the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida is the voice of small entrepreneurs, and we want to go further, to be the voice of our community between governments and small entrepreneurs,” he said.
“I let them know that they have a voice that will help them together with governments to open the doors of opportunities to our groups that are underrepresented in the area of government contracts,” Figueroa said.
The professional group currently has between 200 and 250 members, but Figueroa said they expect those numbers to grow after the new structure and organization that the Chamber is setting up. The new board was sworn-in in January 2021.
“What we’ve experienced during the pandemic is that our Latino race is very resilient and there have been countless businesses that have opened during the pandemic and have remained; others, although they closed for a few months, have come back,” he said.
He also mentioned his recent meetings with former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator representing Florida, State Sen. Víctor Torres, as well as Darren Soto, member of the U.S. House of Representative from Florida’s 9th district, to discuss the needs and reality of entrepreneurs both in Puerto Rico and in Florida.
“We have spoken with the government of Puerto Rico, the secretary of state and the governor and several sectors, we’ve been speaking for collaborative initiatives between the government of Puerto Rico and the Chamber of Commerce of Puerto Rico of Central Florida, both the local and state government to offer resources to Puerto Rico to help it rebuild,” he said.
“in Puerto Rico, there’s no workforce, there are no companies capable of doing a project as huge as it is to build the infrastructure of Puerto Rico and if they have to look outside for workforce and companies that can do the work, why not here in Florida?,” he said.
“We are recognized as the 79th and 80th municipality of Puerto Rico, we’re close by and if we can help, that money stays in Central Florida, it will bring economic benefits to our area as well to Puerto Rico. We can be part of the solution and we’re here to give them a hand,” Figueroa said.
Among the Chamber’s upcoming plans this year is to go back to hosting in-person events, including one that was suspended due to the pandemic: El Josco Awards. Also in the pipeline are fundraising programs, such as scholarships to benefit students, and one community agency in the area to contribute to their social work plans.
“We’ve been working hard in the organization and restructuring of the Chamber…giving it a new image because everything planned is innovative,” he added.
Launch and Learn
In its recent event “Launch and Learn,” in Lake Nona, the Chamber brought together dozens of members for a worskhop that had the participation of Luis M. Martinez-Alicea, the organization’s director of government affairs, who is assistant manager of Multicultural Affairs and International Relations of the Mayor of Orlando, and Carol Palacio, Orange County Government Economic Development Coordinator.
The region has become a magnet for many Puerto Rican businesses as professionals seek to settle with their families and make Central Florida their second home.
Like the case of Katherine Castro who after the passage of Hurricane María in 2017, moved with her husband to Orlando and launched her company, Advance Credit, from scratch, building on 16 years of experience with her company in Puerto Rico.
“Seeing so many people leaving the island seeking refuge here, the vast majority were gathered here in Central Florida, and we believed it was time for us to do our part and help the community to have a second chance to have a better quality of life,” she said.
Castro heads the Lead Group at Celebration with around 52 members from several countries. And now, she has offices in Puerto Rico and Florida.
She stressed that the work it takes is different to start a business and that a person can get ahead with a certain approach.
“The business strategy in Central Florida is quite different from Puerto Rico because there’s a diversity of cultures, and the contact here must be more direct, much more personalized to the diverse community,” she said.
“At first, it was challenging, in the sense of getting used to it,” she said and stressed that her husband, who does not speak English, had it easier to find many Hispanics in the area, due to the great growth of Puerto Rican and Hispanic communities.
Jomar López, a Puerto Rican businessman and real estate agent in Puerto Rico, agreed. He said he felt welcomed and motivated by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida and the existing Hispanic business community.
“Seeing so many Puerto Ricans in the area and many Hispanics like us with the desire to grow, makes things much easier for us,” said López, treasurer of the professional group.
“When Puerto Rico was impacted by Hurricane María, we were very affected, like many Puerto Ricans, and we decided two months later that it was time to start and open a business here in Florida,” said López, owner of Alcon Investment Group in Orlando.
“We had already thought about it before, looking at it for the next five years, but it was María that gave us a push to come. I saw the positive instead of the negative,” he said.
Inclusion is key
Meanwhile, Edgar Vásquez, vice president of the Chamber, said inclusion is at the heart of the new board’s plans.
“No matter where you come from, we’re all in the minority here. For this reason, we’re dedicating our resources to restructuring the organization and to empower and give that exposure to these small entrepreneurs,” he said. “[We want for] everyone [to] feel embraced, that they are welcome in this chamber. Hispanics are warm people, we’re recognized internationally for that, why do not it when doing business?”
Meanwhile, Orange County Economic Development Coordinator, Carol Palacio explained the minority business programs and incentives available, noting that 67% of minority companies in this county received grants to keep going during the pandemic.
She recommended that those who want to open or expand their business to Florida seek assistance from the local government to learn about the dynamics of doing business in this country.