Global Conversation with Jennifer Rodríguez, new CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Jennifer Rodríguez officially became the new CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on January 4, 2016.

Rodríguez had been the executive director of the city’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs before being approved by the chamber’s board of directors after she was selected from a “large” pool of candidates by a search committee, according to Al DÍA News

Rodríguez took the time out of her schedule to speak to Global Philadelphia about some of the different initiatives that the chamber is involved in, as well as her view of Philadelphia having the distinction of being called a World Heritage City.

What are some of the different initiatives of the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce?

We have a number of programs geared toward small businesses and also building leadership and skills for business owners and Latino professionals. We have our loan business education program that provides technical assistance and education to small businesses of all types in the Latino community.

We do workshops, networking events and also have the professional mentor network, which is our effort to create an ecosystem where there are leaders and professionals who may or may not be business owners.

Are there any global initiatives that the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is involved with?

We are involved with International trade, and every other year or every two years we host an international trade mission. The chamber has gone to a number of South American countries, the latest one was Brazil, if I’m not mistaken. I foresee doing another trade mission in 2017.

What it does it mean for you to be operating in a World Heritage City?

In my opinion, it makes the city look attractive to foreign travelers. The brand or title of World Heritage is very well known outside of the U.S. It’s not as well known in the U.S., so I think if the city and our tourism marketing companies leverage the brand well, we will see a growth in international visitors.

Do you feel that Philadelphia is a “global” enough city?

I think Philadelphia is resurging. I think the city has been rediscovered as many others have already attested to. I think we are really well positioned to leverage that [World Heritage status]. We really need to take care of that because the time is now.

Since taking over the role of CEO, what has been some of your goals?

Getting to know the membership and getting to know our investors, to know the stakeholders in the Latino community, but my primary goal is to increase our membership because the Latino community is the fastest growing community in the country. Latinos create businesses at twice the rate of the average in the United States.

It’s important that we really have a very robust and strong membership in order to be able to really show the influence that I think the Latino community by shear numbers should be showing.

What do you see as being the biggest challenge for those who live in the Latino community?

One challenge that Latino businesses have that other business might not, is language. The businesses tend to be smaller and earn less revenue. The challenges that they have are very similar to challenges to other minority owned businesses. They have access to capital, capitalizing their businesses, property is a challenge, and financial literacy and the basics of operating a business.

Do you think Philadelphia is doing enough to assist the immigration population here?

In my opinion, I think the city is one of the friendlier cities but the city as a whole, numerous studies have been conducted that say establishing business in the Philadelphia is hard. What I will say, is that under Mayor Kenney and Mayor Nutter there was a really sincere effort to help and provide resources to immigrant businesses. Mayor Nutter created the Office of Immigrant Affairs, Mayor Kenney has continued the office and has explicitly said in his economic development priorities that language access and support of immigrant businesses is a priority for him.

So, I think Philadelphia is becoming an increasing place for immigrants to do businesses. There is a lot of work to be done, but there is progress as well.