Latino chamber plans kickoff celebration

Greg Lopez
Greg Lopez

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Rich Lopez
Rich Lopez

A new business organization formed in part to foster connections with a growing Latino population in the region plans a coming out party of sorts.

The Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a kickoff celebration for 4:30 to 7 p.m. May 2 at the La Bamba Restaurant, 546 Main St. in downtown Grand Junction.

Greg Lopez, director of the Colorado District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration, is expected to speak at the event.

But the larger purpose of the event will be to officially introduce the chamber to the public and promote membership, said Rich Lopez, president of the group. “The kickoff will provide a platform to provide outreach to a lot of areas of the community.”

Rich Lopez has been the impetus behind the Latino chamber. He ran printing businesses in Colorado off and on for more than 40 years before retiring and relocating from Greeley to the Grand Valley almost two years 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, Lopez said he noticed two things: a large and growing Latino population, but a lack of what he said he considers a strong voice for that community.

Lopez expects the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce to help take on that role as part of a mission to foster relationships between Latino and non-Latino communities. “I promote the chamber by just stressing the need for a bridge,” he said.

The initial response has been gratifying, and chamber membership has increased since it was formed earlier this year, Lopez said. “You know what? It’s growing legs.”

While the specific goals and activities of the chamber will depend on what members and the board of directors decide, Lopez said he believes the organization can help entrepreneurs and businesses handle such issues as regulations and financing.

He hopes the chamber can work with other local organizations in offering resources to help start and grow businesses. “I hope to find ways of helping some of those people who want to go into business for themselves.”

The chamber also can help in organizing events that showcase Latino businesses and promote networking between Latino and non-Latino business people, he said.

One possibility might be a monthly mercado, or market, featuring Latino businesses selling food and other products and services, Lopez said.

The event could be offered on North Avenue as part of efforts to revitalize the business district along that Grand Junction street, he added.

Lopez said he’s also looking into the possibility of arranging a summit later this year for members of the Latino chamber and similar organizations elsewhere in Colorado to exchange ideas and address common issues.

In addition, the chamber can help non-Latino business reach a potential market for Latino customers that nationally tops

$1 trillion, he said. Like a business developing loyal customers, reaching out out to the Latino community is a matter of establishing relationships and building trust, he added.

The first step, though, is to promote greater awareness of the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce and membership in the group, Lopez said. “In order for that to happen, we have to be visible.”

Bringing in the state director of the SBA for the event should help, he said. “That’s a big catch for us.”

Rich Lopez said he expects Greg Lopez to talk primarily about the services and resources the SBA offers small businesses, including those operated by minority owners.

Greg Lopez has served as state director for more than five years, overseeing the delivery of business training, financial assistance and government contracting programs throughout Colorado.

Prior to joining the SBA, he served as president and chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Minority Supplier Development Council, a Denver-based organization that assists minority business owners build relationships with corporations, government agencies and others.

Lopez also served on the Denver Hispanic Chamber Board of Directors for five years and as interim president for one year.