Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: Growing, Connecting, Empowering
In its brief history, the Volusia County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has had four presidents. Lourdes León is the fifth. León ascended to the position in June 2022. She has been a part of the Chamber for the past four and half years, first as Director of Events and then as Secretary of the Board, positions she said have helped prepare her for her role as president of the fast-growing organization.
León’s attention right now, in the wake of the unprecedented flooding brought on by Hurricane Ian, is helping impacted members. The Chamber has hosted a small business administrator to share how local businesses impacted by the hurricane can reach out to the government for resources. In addition, the Chamber played the role of “middleman,” assisting impacted businesses in their efforts to reach out to FEMA and making sure the Hispanic community has had the resources necessary to respond to FEMA’s questionnaires. However, when asked about her goals beyond the immediate, León said she is focused on growing the chamber and empowering Latina women who are the cornerstone of the community.
The Volusia County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has a presence in Volusia, Seminole and Flagler Counties, but that wasn’t always the case. The Chamber was founded in 2011 in Orange City by Carlos Valderrama. As part of their tenth anniversary, Chamber leaders announced an expansion into Seminole and Flager, responding to members with businesses in those two counties.
During our phone interview, Lourdes León shared that the tri-county area has seen the Hispanic population grow 104% over the past decade. “Our success has been incredible because of the amount of growth we have been experiencing. The Hispanic population is growing tremendously. Deltona is one of the largest strongholds. Sanford is not far behind. In fact, as of the last census, Sanford has over 40% of the population identifying as Hispanic.”
When asked what programming she is most proud of, León said, “I am particularly proud of the iLatina Gala, which originally started in 2017 as a lunch [event] to uplift Hispanic women. We celebrate diversity and inclusion but also the many ladies who are pillars of the community so that their work is seen. This year the iLatina Gala will be held on November 12 at the Plaza Resort and Spa.” The event, which León compared to the Emmys, has seven award categories and, in the more recent iteration, over 150 nominations. The winners are selected by a panel of judges.
“Making sure our Latinas are heard and viewed by the community is incredible. As a part of iLatina, we have actually expanded the program to include the “iLatina Leadership,” a one-weekend summit. We bring people from all around the United States and overseas into the area to get the necessary tools to empower Latina businesses.”
This past summer, over 50 women received training. León described the experience as “powerful,” noting that representatives from Univision’s Miami office, Telemundo’s Orlando office and even some educators from Colombia were in attendance, and there is talk of replicating the event in other markets. “The event was so successful that Miami now wants to replicate the program in South Florida, and a representative of the Department of State in Maryland was eyeing implementing a similar program,” she said.
Beyond the iLatina Gala, the Chamber has had a noticeable impact in the counties where they operate, with reciprocal partnership agreements signed with other local chambers operating in the tri-county area offering same-price event tickets to the events the Hispanic Chamber puts on. Additionally, the Chamber’s Cafe Con Leche networking events in Orange City, Lake Mary and Daytona Beach are well attended and often see cross-country participation from businesses located on the fringes of their operation area. Business owners see these events as great opportunities to build bridges between cities, and they learn how to access resources and expand their business to new markets.
For the future, the Chamber is considering increasing its presence in Flagler with a potential new satellite office in Flagler Beach, as well as building out its ambassadors and community teams to continue to facilitate events in new regions. And there is discussion of recruiting members in Miami, Orlando and Bogota, Colombia. León said that as the Chamber continues to grow, a name change may be in the cards. Whether this means the Chamber becomes a statewide organization or something more has yet to be determined. For León, it is very important to have many Chambers of Commerce working together for one purpose: to drive business.
Did you know?
Part of the Hispanic Chamber’s mission is to facilitate connection. Roughly half of its members are non-Hispanic owned businesses looking to grow their footprint in the Hispanic community.