Latino Business Owners in the Chambersburg Community

by Amy Weibley, Communications & Strategic Initiatives Director, Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce

Best_copy1Latino merchants visited the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce yesterday to sit down and start a conversation about bridging the gap between Latino businesses and the greater business community. A number of Chamber members and prospective members – nearly 30 people – met with the Chamber to voice their desire for Latino business owners to work together with the Chamber to embrace the Latino and migrant community within the business framework of the area.

“The Latino and immigrant community make up an important segment of our local businesses and workforce,” said Noel Purdy, president of the Greater Chambersburg Chamber of Commerce. “I’m glad we were able to hear from the Latino business owners today about their experiences and how they want to get involved.”

According to a recent study commissioned by the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE), the number of businesses owned by people of color are growing. In the U.S. between 2007 and 2012, the number of Latino-owned businesses grew by 34.5 percent. Additionally, the study reports the number of businesses owned by immigrants is growing. A quarter of all new businesses in the country are started by immigrants, now representing 18.4 percent of the self-employed population.

On a local level, the Chambersburg Latino business owners discussed with the Chamber how to increase visibility of their stores. They want to contribute to the positive happenings within the community, such as participating more in local festivals and getting involved with the Chamber.

“Latino merchants want to make it known that we are here, we have a voice and we stand together,” said Carlos Perez, owner of Central PA Wireless – Boost Mobile and a member of the Chamber’s board of directors. “We are Latinos offering the best of ourselves to the community as a whole. We want to be part of all the wonderful events that take place every year and we want to improve the level of service we offer to the community.”

CPA WirelessIn addition to sharing their desire to integrate with the greater Chambersburg community, merchants expressed their concern about the decrease in Latino customers. The recent national discourse has spread fear within their community, and some businesses explained that up to 60 percent of their customer base has decreased in the past few months because Latino consumers are afraid to spend money.

The Borough of Chambersburg was 17 percent Hispanic as of 2015, according to City-Data. “Losing these consumers is a concern for the entire business community and has an impact on the local economy. This is something we cannot ignore,” said Purdy.

The ACCE study revealed cities and regions that embrace diversity do better economically. According to the report, economists at the Cleveland Federal Reserve found that high levels of racial inclusion and progress on income equality correlate with strong economic growth. Income inequality, geographic concentrations of the poor and racial segregation are all associated with slower growth over the last three decades.

The initiative from local business owners was spurred by the national movement, A Day Without Immigrants, but their desire to integrate with the business community has been growing for a while.

“We’re here [in Chambersburg] to better ourselves,” said Francisco Espinosa, co-owner of V&F Multi-Service located downtown. “We want to be part of the community and build this community stronger – not as Anglos or migrants, but as a united people.”

Yesterday sparked the beginning of many more conversations to come about how the Chamber can support Latino businesses and provide a constructive forum for Latino merchants to integrate with the greater business community. As the largest business advocacy organization in Franklin County, the Chamber will continue working with stakeholders that come to the table on strategies to accomplish this.

If you'd like more information or to get involved, contact the Chamber at 717-264-7101 or chamber@chambersburg.org.

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