Shifting Gears in Motor City

Camilo Suero, Executive Director of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, speaks at a community event.

With its hard times in the rearview mirror, Michigan is rolling forward. The state’s Hispanic chamber of commerce is helping its members seize opportunity in the resurgence

There’s no way to sugarcoat it: times have been tough across the state of Michigan. First, there was the automotive crisis, then there was Detroit’s bankruptcy. These and other issues have taken their toll, prompting one-fourth of Detroit’s residents to leave the city. But now, for the first time in years, things are looking up. Housing prices are rising, crime is down, and economic development has started ramping up again. Camilo Suero, executive director of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (MHCC), believes there are good reasons for optimism. As Michigan and its largest city both rebound, the MHCC is helping its minority members take full advantage of every new opportunity.

Michigan

Population
9,883,640

Percent of the population that is Hispanic
4.4%

Hispanic-Owned businesses
approx. 11,000

Percent of all business that is Hispanic-Owned
1.3%

Suero came to Michigan to pursue his MBA and stayed because he liked the work ethic and culture in Detroit. Now, as MHCC’s new leader, he’s looking to help others tap into that atmosphere. “It’s all about connecting certified-minority-business enterprises with corporations. Every day we look to become a stronger bridge between the two groups,” says Suero. “Many Michigan businesses, especially corporations, have to fill minority purchasing mandates,” he adds, and the chamber’s members feed those supplier diversity initiatives. Since most corporations will only purchase from certified-minority businesses, the organization promotes ways to obtain the necessary certification through the local minority council.

When economic difficulty hit Michigan, many fled its major cities, but the Hispanic population in Detroit actually grew. That—together with the recovery—has Suero excited. “Our members are educating themselves, starting new businesses, and moving up,” he says. While Latinos once huddled in Detroit’s Southwest neighborhood, they are now getting higher-paying jobs, buying homes, and moving into more affluent communities. As a community, Hispanics in Michigan are at an inflection point. Detroit elected a Latina, Raquel Castaneda-Lopez, to the city council for the first time in 2013. Additionally, Governor Rick Snyder announced in 2014 his plans to lure immigrants to the state through a proposal to hand out 50,000 employment visas and thereby drive job creation and economic growth.

Detroit

Population
713,777

Percent of the
population that
is Hispanic
6.8%

Hispanic-Owned businesses
1,079

Percent of all
business that is Hispanic-Owned
2.1%

Michigan is still a mecca for the automotive and engineering industries, and the MHCC is likewise anchored in these sectors. Recently, though, both the state and chamber leaders have placed a major focus on attracting large companies in IT, staffing, technology, construction, consulting, and other nonautomotive sectors. “This is where purchase orders are written that benefit minority owners,” says Suero. Helping members get their hands on those purchase orders is a key focus for the chamber. Once a year, the MHCC holds its matchmaking event. In 2014, the day saw 80 certified-minority companies paired with 40 corporations and generated hundreds of solid leads for member enterprises.

Additionally, the MHCC has great relationships with local sport teams for community outreach and business opportunities. Some members supply the teams with services such as facility management and catering. “Having three of our four professional sport teams in Detroit creates a constant flow of visitors throughout the year, generating jobs at the stadiums and local businesses primarily in the food and hospitality sector,” says Suero. In 2014, the chamber collaborated with Ford Field for a special Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Hispanic leader in Detroit Luis Perez , Detroit Lions CFO, assisted with the venue. The chamber is proud to have two prominent Hispanic decision makers occupying high-ranking roles in sports—Al Avila, vice president and assistant general manager for the Detroit Tigers, and Perez.

Now, the state of Michigan is well into its recovery, and Suero says the chamber needs to take advantage of that. He’ll respond accordingly. “We can’t be everything to everyone right now, but we can take our resources and figure out how to make the most impact based on the business life cycle,” he says. The chamber is adding initiatives to educate minority owners who are looking to access capital and either start or grow their own businesses, and balancing that with help for established businesses, so they can help drive the economy forward. In doing so, the MHCC will strengthen its position in the community and continue to represent the interests of Hispanic business professionals in Detroit and across the state of Michigan.