Leading the Madison Black and Latino Chambers of Commerce
Fulfilling American Dreams
|Camille Carter (l) is the CEO of the Madison Black Chamber of
Commerce and Jessica Cavazosis, the CEO of the Latino
Chamber of Commerce of Southcentral Wisconsin
— Jessica Cavazos. And in recognition of the regional nature of the Latino business market, the Latino Chamber changed the end of its name from Dane County to
While their chamber serve different populations, their missions as well as challenges and opportunities are often very similar. And in a male-dominated sector, the
two women heading the major chambers of color in Dane County have found a certain level of sisterhood that allows them to more effectively pursue their missions.
While the Black business initiatives have sometimes sputtered over the years, under Carter, it appears that the Madison Black Chamber is finding its feet in order
to be effective in the long run.
“The challenge that I face is like any business, it’s a growing business,” Carter said in their new offices on Park Street. “We are just five-years-old since we
evolved from the African American Black Business Association, which had been in business since 2004. We are growing very fast. Our programming evolves
quarter over quarter. And that presents its challenges, just making sure that we are relevant and providing the right set of programs to meet the needs of our
businesses here in Madison and Dane County. I came in as the association was growing with the introduction of the Black Business Directory. It was the pivotal
point from the Association to the Chamber. Right now, we are working on our 2020 printed edition of the Black Business Directory. We’re trying to expand on it as
well. We have very limited resources. But a nimble organization learns how to survive with the generosity of volunteers and partners and collaborations.”
Due to having some full and part-time staff, the Latino Chamber has been able to expand its offerings and geographical service area.
“We basically have a footprint in six counties from the Wisconsin Dells area to Rock County and Ft. Atkinson and Jefferson County to Sauk City,” Cavazos said. “We
have active members in all of those areas. That’s why we say that when we have 2-3 active members in an area, then we have the opportunities to do outreach in
those areas and to have a presence in those areas and then do some classes in some of those areas. The Chamber is basically an association of people who care
about Latino economic growth. It doesn’t mean everyone is Hispanic or Latino. It means that everyone is invested in seeing that the Latino ecosystem is inclusive
to mainstream economic development. Our organization helps develop businesses through technical assistance, business support and pipeline programs to
opportunities. The biggest goals for me as the CEO of the organization really was to strengthen Latino economic systems and entrepreneurs in the region by helping
them cultivate and leverage in terms of understanding how they can succeed through best practices. I think the Latino Chamber of Commerce works to expand and
cultivate new entrepreneurs, but it also cares about making sure that existing businesses have the opportunity to thrive, succeed and expand in our community.”
While Black and Brown businesses in Dane County may be most visible through bricks and mortar restaurants and beauty and barber services, they actually
incorporate a wide array of goods and services.
“We have businesses that are international and national in scope,” Carter said. “A lot of times because these entrepreneurs are busy working within their business,
we don’t really hear about some of the work that they are doing. But we really have some very successful, multi-million dollar businesses that are not just in
Madison and Dane County, but across the United States. You’re looking at construction companies, Internet-based companies, and hospitality companies that are
very, very broad and wouldn’t traditionally see them unless you are looking for them for a specific reason. By nature, they are behind the scenes. Either their
markets are not as concentrated in the Madison area or they are just working within their business.”
“Our biggest membership base is in the service industry,” Cavazos said. “What that means personal services like accountants, insurance agents, and
bookkeepers. Those are our largest base outside the non-profits and corporations that we do have. The second one would be contractors. We have a lot of
contractors such as dry wallers, plumbers and electricians. We have cleaning companies. It’s a full gamut of everything.”
One of the biggest barriers to people of color achieving their entrepreneurial dreams is the lack of capital. But Carter noted that where there is a will, there is a way.
“The lack of capital does prevent businesses from forming or growing,” Carter emphasized. “In today’s environment, traditional access to capital is very scarce,
considering what took place in 2008. Many people don’t own their own homes and so that path to capitalization is closed to them. A lot of African Americans
especially in Dane County, as a whole, are not homeowners. And so they are even more limited in the resources that they can have to finance their businesses.
Friends and families often times are not as easy of an option as well. Businesses are needing to be very creative when it comes to how they capitalize their
business. There are alternative funding sources that are available. There are Kick-Start, venture capital type programs. There are Go Fund Me opportunities. So
what you are seeing as a result of having a lack of access to capital is that businesses are being a lot savvier in trying to find ways to capitalize their businesses.”
Cavazos agreed that lack of capital is an impediment. But she also went on to say that Latino businesses can get pigeon-holed and squeezed to make
unsustainable business decisions.
“Virtually all of our members believe that the community is in a unique position being that we have a growing population in the state and it’s kind of like the wrap-
around that develops its own eco-systems,” Cavazos said. “Sometimes language barriers are there when you go outside the eco-system. We invest in our
businesses and there are forces within the Latino system that are very strong. It’s understanding other markets. It’s understanding how to pipeline yourself outside
of your own community. That’s something that the Chamber does, try to connect members who maybe aren’t Latino who want to invest in this community to have
access to this population. That would be pipelining or going out of the comfort zone of some of these businesses. We see that a lot. Third I would say the unfair
contracting practices of the prime companies when they are looking for subcontractors. They are looking for the lowest bid. Sometimes they make it unfair or
unsustainable for our small businesses to be able to sustain themselves. You’re creating another level of poverty by trying to get these small minority business
owners to outbid each other. At all costs, they are going to try to be lower. I hope we are able to resolve these as organization.”
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Over the years, it has almost been magical, a sleight of hand, in how the Chambers of
Commerce of Color have been able to work on their missions since they began in 2004 through
the guidance of Maria Bañuelos and Madison College. It seems with next to nothing resources
— and initial grants from the city of Madison — they have been able to get something done.
About five years ago, the Black chamber changed its name to Madison Black Chamber of
Commerce and reorganized. Camille Carter, who was on the board, also took the reins to lead
the chamber as a volunteer.
About three years ago, the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County developed its monetary
base to the extent that it hired its first executive director — later promoted to president/CEO