The New North

After more than two years as president of the THCC, Diego Casco (left), passed on leadership to Manuel Rodriguez (right) at the end of 2013.

The Greater Toronto Area has long been a beacon for the immigrant. In the past five decades, Latinos have flocked to “Hogtown” from all over the globe. Argentinians were the first group to arrive, followed by Chileans and Guatemalans. In recent years, the region has seen an influx from Colombia, Brazil, and Mexico. According to the 2011 census, 1.2 percent of the Canadian population is Latin American—but Toronto’s Latino population ranks much higher at 2.8 percent. In fact, Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in North America with half of its residents born outside of Canada and one-third speaking a language besides English or French. Of the city’s minorities, Latinos are the fifth largest group.

Founded in 2002, the THCC is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and developing Hispanic businesses and partnerships in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and Latin America. For many years, it operated exclusively through volunteer efforts, but that started to change in 2011 when Casco and his team garnered significant growth in membership and sponsorship support during his term. They have since hired an executive director to provide better attention and services to members and sponsors alike.

Primary functions of the THCC include hosting networking events, business seminars, conferences, and the VISION Showcase Awards annual ceremony. Additionally, the chamber lobbies government officials to raise issues and promote causes important to its members. Because membership is growing at an increasingly fast rate, in 2012 the THCC canvassed the GTA and conducted a comprehensive survey to better understand the needs of the modern immigrant.

The survey yielded results that are now key factors in guiding the chamber’s strategy. Casco and his colleagues discovered that more than 30 percent of immigrants had been in Toronto for five years or less, illustrating a recent trend: The Latino population of the GTA grew 61.5 percent between 1996 and 2006. Since then, more than 4,000 Latinos have arrived each year. Thirty-three percent of Latinos who arrived within the last five years want to start a business.
With that information in hand, Casco, Rodriguez, and other THCC leaders are working to meet the needs of established entrepreneurs and educated Latino immigrants. “It’s our job to find Hispanic business owners and businesspeople and help connect them with the networks and resources they need to thrive,” Casco says. Membership currently stands at 200, but the THCC reaches 10,000 individuals through its social networks, database, and events. In addition to promoting membership, Rodriguez is working to bring in new sponsors.

Rodriguez says it’s important to facilitate acclimation for new arrivals to Toronto. “We urge people to get to know the Canadian system, ask questions, and network,” he says. According to Rodriguez, those who embrace their new culture will likely thrive faster. This is one of the reasons chamber events are conducted entirely in English. “When I came here in 1999, it took me 10 years to find a community,” Casco says. “We see the chamber as a way for people to feel established much sooner. We look to give our members a head start.”

Now that the THCC has built momentum, Rodriguez has plans to be more vocal about the Latino population’s growing importance to the Canadian economy. For example, members are provided information about open trade between Canadian and Latin American companies. According to a recent survey, 500 Latin American-owned businesses in the region have an economic impact between $50 million and $75 million. “We represent a dynamic and relevant segment of Toronto,” he says, “with lots of skills and resources to offer.”

Talking Shop: A Conversation with Three Local Professionals

Bernardo Riveros, Executive Director, International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC)
What are the major advantages for a Hispanic businessperson in the Toronto market?

First, Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Second, Hispanics are not only known as honest and hard workers in Canada, but based on emerging market growth, Latin America is the place to do business in or with.

What does the region have to offer Latino professionals?

Opportunity in many fields—banking, education, manufacturing, mining, and energy, just to name a few.

What is unique about the business climate?

Free-trade agreements between Canada and Colombia, Honduras, Panama, Peru, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Chile.

What are the major challenges in your area?

In my particular line of business, major challenges are related to immigration, as we depend on international students’ ability to come to Canada to earn their English education.

Giuseppina “Pina” Russo,Cofounder & Managing Partner, Hispanovation
What does the region have to offer Latino professionals?

Easy access to major Canadian and American cities such as Boston, Montreal, Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC. This allows products and services for the Hispanic segment to penetrate the market faster and more cost-effectively. Also, the province has been recognized as a hub for innovation. Latinos in North America can take advantage of their cultural knowledge to develop new business models that could impact their countries of origin. Recently, Latinos in the film production, arts, and sports industries have moved to Toronto due to the increasing benefits and exemptions the province offers.

What is unique about the business climate?

Toronto has a highly educated and diverse business population that facilitates the establishment of new business relationships without leaving the city. With minority groups from major emerging economies represented in the city through professional associations and chambers of commerce, networking, trade shows, and other events are part of the business culture in Toronto.

What THCC services do you use?

The business directory and studies conducted by the chamber in partnership with the provincial government.

What drew you to the city and would you recommend it to other entrepreneurs?

Absolutely. Toronto not only offers business opportunities but is also a safe place to raise children. It is a tolerant and respectful society. Toronto is also a vibrant and cosmopolitan city where you never get bored.

Carlos Paz-Soldan, Founder & CEO, Tenet Computer Group Inc.
What are the major advantages for Hispanic businesspeople in Toronto?

 For Hispanic businesspeople, Toronto offers access to a labor force familiar with emerging markets’ business, culture, and language. This makes Toronto an ideal springboard to launch businesses that reach Latin America and other parts of the world.

What is unique about the business climate?

Canada’s image and visibility has been greatly enhanced by our handling of the global financial crisis. Toronto is recognized as a diverse, vibrant, world-class city and the center of Canada’s business decision making.

What are the major ways the THCC can help businesspeople?

It fosters connections and collaboration among our companies, especially for large opportunities such as the 2015 Pan-American/Parapan-American Games. It also acts as a catalyst to promote international business, such as interfacing with Latin American consulates or companies to discover and communicate opportunities.