“We invested our resources to help our members during the current [COVID-19] crisis,” Gonzalez said, “even though we were struggling ourselves.” – Rocio Gonzalez
Rocio Gonzalez and the Latin American Chamber of Commerce do an outsized amount of good.
When the federal government rolled out the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) – part of its response to the economic collapse brought on by the coronavirus outbreak – small business owners across the country were desperate to apply for a forgivable loan.
Getting a piece of the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) $310 billion pot of money was the only hope for millions of struggling entrepreneurs.
On April 2, the SBA issued instructions on how to apply. That was just one day before lenders could begin accepting PPP loan applications. But the instructions, said Rocio Gonzalez, executive director of the Latin American Chamber of Commerce Charlotte, were issued only in English.
Let that sink in.
The government threw out a lifeline – but inadvertently made it available only to small business owners who spoke English.
Gonzalez quickly found a translator who could take the document, thick with legal jargon and translate it into Spanish in a hurry. “You can’t have any errors when translating a government document,” she said. “We needed it done fast, and we needed it done right.”
Eventually, the SBA did issue instructions in Spanish – but about five days into the loan application process, Gonzalez said. LACCC’s clients had long since gotten the translation and taken action.
Taking care of (small) business
LACCC exists to help small, Hispanic-owned businesses. The group offers all its services, which include mentoring and training, in Spanish and English. Gonzalez and her small staff (there are just two full-time employees and a contractor) take the responsibility seriously.
The organization was established as an outgrowth of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce in 2001. Gonzalez, then the broker-in-charge of a residential real estate company, became a member in 2004 and saw first-hand how the organization helps members.
“As a Realtor, I would attend educational seminars and workshops on everything from marketing to finance,” she said. “I made contacts that led to clients. I met bilingual Latino lawyers, mortgage lenders and general contractors and was able to refer my clients to them. There were so many benefits to being a member.”
In the early 2000s, it wasn’t always easy for Hispanic business owners to find support, Gonzalez said. Especially bilingual support. LACCC helped bridge the gap.
Small organization, big reputation
While the focus is on helping small businesses grow, LACCC has partnerships with some of Charlotte’s best-known businesses. Lowe’s, Novant Health, PNC, Wells Fargo, the Mint Museum, Atrium Health and more – all are LACCC partners.
Those big organizations rely on LACCC to make connections in the Latinx community and to refer them to Hispanic-owned businesses. Public companies often require them to be government certified as minority-owned businesses to be hired as a contractor or vendor. That cumbersome process involves the usual government bureaucracy and lots of reports, P&L statements, tax information.
It’s challenging for a small business, where a few employees are already stretched thin – to make time for it all. LACCC can help businesses become certified. “Getting certified is a time-consuming process,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s worth it in the long run.”
In turn, LACCC offers support to business resource groups (BRGs) in those companies. “When our partners have questions about their supplier diversity programs, they know they can reach out to us,” Gonzalez.
The organization has built a reputation on being reliable – even during turbulent times.
“We invested our resources to help our members during the current [COVID-19] crisis,” Gonzalez said, “even though we were struggling ourselves.” LACCC is a 501(c)(6) organization, she explained. That’s the IRS designation for organizations such as chambers of commerce that promote business, but don’t generate a profit.
“Many chambers are suffering now,” she said. “Our 501(c)(6) status means we can’t apply for PPP or loans.” But they are helping their members apply for the loans they’re not eligible for.
‘Helping clients reinvent themselves’
So many businesses are hurting now, but businesses owned by immigrants may be hurting even more. Here’s just one example. Some LACCC members have an individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number.
ITINs were created to ensure that non-citizens who aren’t eligible for a Social Security number can still file a federal tax return. The ITIN number allows them to get a driver’s license, open a bank account and pay taxes, but doesn’t get them benefits such as Social Security or tax credits. Or a PPP loan.
With those limitations and obstacles to recovery facing many Latin-owned businesses, LACCC continues to devise creative ways of helping.
“One of our members owns a printing company,” Gonzalez said. “When his business started to suffer, we encouraged him to learn how to create and print 3D protective shields and sell them to hospitals. We’re helping clients reinvent themselves.”
LACCC is still offering workshops and seminars – but they’ve been operating entirely online since March 10. “We’re always asking ourselves,” Gonzalez said, “how else can we be of service?”
DIG IN DEEPER ABOUT LACCC
This story was written in partnership with Wells Fargo Corporate Philanthropy and Community Relations.
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