Photo by Annie-Lee Taylor
Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce chairman
Six out of every 10 children who attend Austin ISD are Hispanic, according to the district’s 2011 Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills results. University Medical Center Brackenridge reported that 85 percent of births at the hospital are Hispanic. George Gutierrez, chairman of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, knows the future lies in these children who will be filling jobs, starting businesses and raising families in the Austin area, and of the importance of educating those students and preparing the general business community for growth in the Hispanic market.
What is the mission of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber, and what are its goals?
The mission of the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber first and foremost is to build our members’ wealth. We do that by being able to deliver value by developing business development programs that help them grow their business, whether it is a small-business series, a series about taxes, finance, [or] social marketing. ... In terms of our goal, one is to help our business owners grow their business to compete more so in the general market in terms of sales.
How is the Hispanic business community doing?
It’s doing extremely well. The Hispanic business climate in terms of number of businesses last year grew 8.6 percent. ... We’re seeing growth with professionals, with lawyers, with doctors, with software developers. We’re seeing entrepreneurs starting their own business. We’re seeing commercial investors start up buildings, commercial buildings, residential buildings.
What is the biggest public policy issue affecting the Hispanic business community, and what is the chamber doing about it?
Voting is obviously one of the biggest problems that we have—civic engagement, getting Hispanics to go out and register to vote. Civic engagement for Hispanics has been an issue for many, many years. It’s a cultural thing, I don’t know why. We try diligently to spread the word on the value, the importance of your vote. … The other would be some of the immigration issues that we have that affect our businesses. Overall the business climate has been mired by the anti-immigration issue. Too many Hispanic businesses are impacted either personally or economically because of the environment. ... There needs to be a simpler way for a person to become a citizen of this country.
What is the chamber’s education committee doing to ensure that the needs of the Hispanic population are met?
Education is of the utmost importance to us because as the general marketplace starts to retire, guess who’s going to fill those jobs? It’s the Hispanics. Hispanics have got to be prepared to fill those jobs, or the economy here in Central Texas is going to feel it. We’ve got to get them educated. We do have a high dropout rate. That is a big concern. It’s improving because of the STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] programs that are in place and because of events that we’ve put on. ... We have to convey the importance of an education, and secondly, once they get beyond the eighth grade, we want them to take a curriculum that focuses on either a STEM program or one that’s going to prepare them to go to college.