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5/27/2004

Longmont chamber leads effort in economic outreach to customers

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Striking common ground between Latino and non-Latino businesses, and each group’s respective customer base, is the purpose of an effort being spearheaded by the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce.

Census figures estimate that 20 percent of the Longmont population is Latino, though many would estimate the number to be even higher, compared with statewide population estimates of about 18 percent.

That is part of the reason why the Longmont chamber hosted an event last month designed to introduce chamber members to the buying potential of Latinos in the community, the first step in developing more “linkage” among businesses of all types in the area.

“This is a business proposition,” said Alex Laguna, a chamber member and a representative of the Longmont Multicultural Plan’s economic task force. “This is not a social enticement — this is not a do-good thing.”

Laguna gave a presentation to about 50 chamber members that highlighted the area’s ever-growing Latino community, with two objectives in mind, he said: to help people, and to help businesses.

“This was an invitation for the community at large to recognize the marketing potential of the Latino community,” Laguna said.

Jay Fernandez, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, said April’s meeting was the first step in an ongoing effort to use the chamber as a conduit for bringing the community closer together.

Front Range Community College and Workforce Boulder County, also represented at the meeting, can help complete the circle of fulfilling the needs of all businesses in the community, he said.

“This is a long-term process,” Fernandez said, adding that while this first meeting was about spreading knowledge and awareness of the Latino population among chamber members, subsequent meetings will focus on “how we can double our effort to outreach to Latino businesses.”

“We’re not just talking about education to the language,” he said. “To reach out to the Latino and Spanish-speaking population, you have to understand the culture.”

Under the Longmont Multicultural Plan, a spin-off of the Latino Task Force formed by the city some years ago, the economic task force is but one of many designed to foster, according to the group’s mission statement, “the people of Longmont working together to be a caring and inclusive community.”

“This effort is for the purpose of benefiting the whole community — not the Latino community or the business community, but the community as a whole,” said Doug Cole, president of the chamber.

Laguna agrees: “The ‘inclusive’ part of this is what makes this work with the community.”

Tom Miller, executive director of Workforce Boulder County, said his organization recently hired a bilingual staff person to work with businesses and job seekers, and said he frequently hears from employers who want to do the same.

“We want to get kind of a joint focus between Workforce, Front Range (Community College) and the business community,” said Miller. “And I think it’s important that the business community leads it.”

George Gallegos, director of special projects for FRCC, has been participating with the Longmont Multicultural Plan for some time, and he said last month’s meeting was instructive for him to get ideas on what role the college can play in serving the needs of businesses.

“We’re kind of like in the beginning stages of this, and one of the things we needed was to take a poll of the businesses and find out what they needed,” Gallegos said. “We’ve got a ways to go, but I think once the seeds have been planted we can start working on it.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at
303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail
at tkindelspire@times-call.com.