Building bridges: Business group expects to make connections to Latino population

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Louise Goodman, left, and Rich Lopez discuss possible activities for the newly formed Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce. Goodman and Lopez serve as treasurer and president, respectively, of the organization. Lopez expects the group to not only assist local businesses, but also help bring together the community (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Rich Lopez envisions an organization that not only will help businesses, but also establish lasting connections with a growing Latino population in Western Colorado.

“We have to connect the non-Latinos with the Latino people. What I’m doing is to provide a bridge to accomplish these things,” says Lopez, the president of and impetus behind the newly formed Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce.

Four officers and 11 board members were elected at an organizational meeting for the chamber conducted in early February. The next meeting of the group is scheduled for March 9.

Even before asking a single business to join, support for the group has been encouraging, Lopez says. “They see the benefits of bridging the two communities.”

Lopez ran printing businesses in Colorado off and on for more than 40 years before retiring and relocating from Greeley to the Grand Valley about 18 months ago. Among the various business and philanthropic groups with which he was active in Greeley was an Hispanic chamber of commerce.

After moving to the Grand Valley, though, Lopez says he soon recognized two things: the presence of a large and growing Latino population, but a lack of what he considers a strong voice for that community.

The Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce could help fill that role as part of a larger mission that involves Latino and non-Latino members, he says.

Like a business developing loyal customers, reaching out to the Latino community is a matter of establishing relationships and building trust. And there are many benefits from the process, he says.

By one estimate, the potential market for Latino customers nationally totals $1 trillion, Lopez says. And as the Latino population grows, so will that market. “That’s a lot of spending power.”

Lopez expects the Latino chamber of host events offering networking opportunities among not only Latino and non-Latino business owners and managers, but also members of the community at large who purchase goods and services.

Louise Goodman, an assistant vice president and commercial lender at Timberline Bank in Grand Junction who was elected treasurer of the chamber, says she joined in part because of the networking opportunities she believes the group will offer. “It’s a good way to meet businesses in town.”

But like Lopez, Goodman also expects the chamber to play a larger role in bringing people together for other reasons. “It really is a group community effort.”

The specifics of those efforts have yet to be decided, Lopez and Goodman say, because they’re ultimately up to what members decide. For now, however, they have some ideas.

Lopez expects the chamber to help businesses, whether it’s dealing with codes and regulations or tapping into the resources offered by other organizations, such as the Business Incubator Center. Entrepreneurs sometimes aren’t aware of what’s required when they start their ventures, he says. Perhaps the chamber also will motivate wouldbe entrepreneurs to go into business, he adds.

Lopez also envisions the chamber joining with other organizations to conduct fund-raising, social and cultural events.

The Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce won’t compete with the chambers in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade, he says, so much as collaborate with them.

The main goal, Lopez says, is to make the connections that  bring the community — Latinos and non-Latinos — together. “I think we can be beneficial in a lot of areas.”


For your information: The Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce next meets at noon March 9 at La Bamba Restaurant, located at 546 Main St. in Grand Junction. For more information, call (970) 324-0216 or send an e-mail to