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Latino business owners prove entrepreneurialism is alive and well in America!

According to Javier Palomarez, President & CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; entrepreneurialism, despite its many challenges, is alive and well in the Hispanic community in America.

Palomarez addressed a diverse group of small business owners and corporate executives at The Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte’s annual meeting in Charlotte, NC, on Wednesday, November 19th.  Astrid Chirinos, President of the LACCC, together with an entourage of colleagues and volunteers, orchestrated the various meetings and luncheon of the day.

At a recent national  conference of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, held in Salt Lake City, UT, with over 7,000 in attendance, Chirinos accepted, on behalf of the LACC Charlotte, the “Chamber of the Year Award” for medium sized chambers.  The USHCC noted that the LACC Charlotte has excelled in focusing on building access to networks, leadership development and supplier diversity in the Charlotte area.

LACC award
Javier Palomarez (left).  Astrid Chirinos (second from right).  Photo taken at USHCC convention in SLC, UT.

As the keynote speaker at the luncheon, Palomarez noted that the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, founded in 1979, actively promotes the economic growth and development of our nation’s entrepreneurs.

The USHCC advocates on behalf of nearly 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses, that together contribute in excess of $468 billion to the American economy, each year. As the leading organization of its kind, the USHCC serves as an umbrella to more than 200 local chambers and business associations across the nation, and partners with more than 220 major corporations.

The USHCC’s core mission is to:

  • Implement and strengthen national programs that assist the economic development of Hispanic firms.
  • Increase access to strategic business networks and partnerships between major U.S. companies and Hispanic-owned businesses.
  • Promote international trade between Hispanic businesses in the U.S. and Latin America.
  • Influence legislation, policies and programs that affect the Hispanic business community.
  • Provide technical assistance to Hispanic business associations and entrepreneurs.

Each year during the session of the United States Congress, the USHCC hosts its annual Legislative Summit. The summit provides chamber members, Hispanic business leaders, and corporate executives the opportunity to discuss legislative policy issues that impact the small business community. Hispanic chamber executives also utilize this opportunity to meet with their Congress.  An example of such a statement may be found in the USHCC Statement in Response to White House Endorsement of Title II Regulation.

Dr. Jim JohnsonDr Johnson lecture
James H. Johnson, Jr. PhD, lectures on “Disruptive Demographics…” to Charlotte, NC business exec’s.

In addition to the luncheon at which Palomarez spoke, the group in attendance were privileged to hear from James H. Johnson, Jr., PhD (Jim), William Rand Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship and Strategy Director, Urban Investment Strategies Center, Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Dr. Johnson spoke extensively on “Disruptive Demographics: Implications for Business, Workforce Development, and Consumer Markets.”  He wittily noted at the beginning of his speech that “there are lots of things in the world we can debate.  Demographics is not one of them!”   Dr. Johnson provide those in attendance a compelling compilation of facts and data to help businesses become more mindful of the significant changes occurring in American today, citing that “in every decade since 1970, the south (U.S.) has captured 50% or more of the growth.  Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina are migration magnets”, he stated.  Since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the door has been opened for people from Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.  “There has been a major shift in geographic origins”, says Johnson.  Today there are over 40 million Americans who are foreign-born.  The largest growth rate in the country is the Hispanic market.  “The Silver Tsunami” is about to hit, Dr. Johnson noted, “the graying of America is here”.  Elder care is a significant and growing market where many needs exist, and therefore, opportunities for entrepreneurs that may provide services or products to this populous.

Also, Dr. Johnson noted, we’re nearing “The End of Men”, as he called it, citing that since 2010, the ratio of women to men attending college is 60% women to 40% men.  Percentages of Blacks and Hispanics attending college is declining rapidly.

Dr. Johson, was selected by Fast Company magazine as one of the “17 … brightest thinkers and doers in the new world of work.”  His current research and consulting activities focus on the workforce and workplace implications of post-1990 demographic changes in the U.S; and on how to create highly competitive and sustainable business enterprises and communities in the current era of economic uncertainty and global insecurity.


A vibrant and informative panel discussion of 4 successful Latino entrepreneurs was led by Astrid Chirinos, a native Venezuelan and President of the LACC Charlotte, a seasoned entrepreneur herself.  The panelist were Omar Jorge Peña, Partner at Compare Foods Supermarkets, Julio Colmenares, President and CEO of CGR Creative, Deborah Aguiar-Vélez, CEO and Chief Executive Producer of Sistemas Corporation and Manuel “Manolo” Jose Betancur, Owner of Las Delicias Bakery.

Each of the panelist were asked a series of questions regarding their success and how it was achieved.  The overwhelming consensus embodied the following:

  • No success comes easy.  It takes hard work, determination, flexibility and help from others.
  • Being an immigrant to the U.S., and having to learn a second language, although a challenge, strengthened their resolve and fortified their vision for achievement
  • Humility is OK and good; but it’s trumped by drive and desire.
  • Gratitude and giving back to others, the community and thinking first of others, always rewards you.  Engage, engage, engage.
  • Constantly striving to be a leader in their profession, while balancing family and community enriched their lives and led to business success.

Omar Jorge Pena 1

Omar Jorge Peña, born in the Dominican Republic, remembered fondly, his father and uncle taking him to executive meetings at a very early age and “teaching him the ropes”.  Although he grew up in the family grocery business, and had solid direction, he had to build his own success pathway.  He graduated from St. John’s University with a degree in Political Science and then obtained his Law Degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University.  Currently Omar operates full service supermarkets in Charlotte, NC and oversees everything that entails (employee management, inventory purchasing, marketing strategy, crisis aversion, customer service, etc.). Previously an attorney in private practice he specialized in real estate, immigration, corporate, trademark, and labor matters. Also experienced in real estate investment analysis, valuation, financing, management, and brokerage, he is leading the way for his company’s growth.

Julio Colmenares 1

Julio Colmenares, hails from Venezuela.  He recalled when he came to America, “I didn’t come by way of Miami, as most Venezuelan immigrants do.  I came directly to Charlotte!”  Julio attributed much of his being able to get a foothold in the area to help from Astrid Chrinos and from Brenda Anderson, an active member of the LACC, program and training director and Charlotte Business Consultant, both dear friends and colleagues who mentored him and helped him get connected.  Much of his success he stated came from a strong resolve to be involved in community.  He is the upcoming Chairman of the Latin American Economic Development Corporation, is past Chairman of the LACC Charlotte, and a member of the City of Charlotte Business Advisory Board Committee.   Colmenares was a guest speaker a the 1st Annual Charlotte International Cabinet.  He has a global mindset.  He proudly announced that his 5 year-old son, not only speaks English and Spanish fluently, but is taking classes in Mandarin as well!  Such diversity and involvement is indicative of his personal commitment to excel and to foster his company’s continual growth and impact.

Deborah Aguiar-Vélez 1

Deborah Aguiar-Vélez, from Puerto Rico remembered when she was hired as the first female mechanical engineer at Exxon.  Attending one of her first executive committee meetings, she patiently waited for a gentleman to assist with her chair.  When she could see that wasn’t going to happen she realized she was in a “white man’s world”, and “since I didn’t want to be a white man, I decided to make my own path (and seat myself!)”.  Now, years later  Deborah is listed in Who’s Who among Hispanic Americans, and Who’s Who of American Women.  She has been the recipient of numerous honors, among them IBM’s Hispanic Magazine’s Latina Excellence Award for Science and Technology, the Humanitarian Award from the National Council (of Christians and Jews), the 2012 Anna Maria Arias Foundation/LATINA Style Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Charlotte, NC, and the 2011 Girl Scouts, Hornets’ Nest Council’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Woman of Distinction Award. She was recently named as one of the country’s Top 100 Diverse Corporate Directors by the Financial Times Agenda Magazine.  Her laser focus, determination and spirit of giving back have been a few of the many components of her success as a Latina entrepreneur.  Now she leads her company in providing customized software and training for engineers, scientists and technical personnel.  Her clients include ExxonMobil, Baxter, BASF, Xerox, and Colgate-Palmolive.

manolo betancur 1

Manuel “Manolo” Jose Betancur is from Columbia.  In 2000, Manuel arrived in Miami, with 2 pair of pants, 2 shirts and one pair of shoes, one thousand dollars in his pocket and a million dreams.  Without knowledge of English, he got a scholarship to study at King College in Bristol, TN. By fall of 2001, Manuel started college and also started as a dishwasher at the same school. In the spring of 2004 he graduated Magna Cum Lade, majoring in modern languages and working as international broker for a company in Bristol TN.  His success didn’t actually start there. He has always been driven.  When he was a teenager, by the age of fifteen he became the first Colombian teenager to reach black belt in two different martial arts.  In 1994 Manuel was able to get into the most prestigious and difficult academies in Colombia.  He achieved the rank of a Second Lieutenant and a Civil Engineer.  In 1999, he became the Commander of 400 soldiers of the Colombia military forces.  He reflected on how he went from being a commander of 400+ soldiers in Columbia to being a dishwasher in America!  “But, he said, I loved America and I wanted to be an American!”  During his college years, he worked with farm workers through AmeriCorps.  These same farmers, would years later, become some of his best customers as he scrambled to grow his bakery business, during the 2008 economic crash, by developing a route extending into the Virginia’s, outside of his Charlotte-based bakery.  Today, Manolo owns a successful bakery, a limo service and an import-export business.  He was honored by his colleagues and fellow members of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce at this, their annual meeting with an award of excellence.  His quiet and humble demeanor are only exceeded by his marked achievement as a true story of an immigrant success in America.

To the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Latin American Chamber of Commerce of Charlotte and to all Latino entrepreneurs who love America and the freedom and opportunity for which she stands, Bold Americans sends our congratulations and says “Salud, y los mejores deseos para su éxito continuo!”

Thank you for being BOLD AMERICANS!

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