May 1, 2008

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Speak for Yourself

Ethnic Chambers of Commerce Create a Voice for Minority Businesses

Heather L. King

May 1, 2008

Eunice Jones arrived in the United States from the Philippines with two children and a suitcase. By 1999, she had become a successful real estate broker and in 2003, she and her husband opened Re/Max Canyons in Salt Lake City, which recently joined with Re/Max Advantage to form one of the largest Re/Max offices in the state of Utah. Today, with 13 years experience in the real estate industry and more than 30 real estate agents in her office, Jones was named Broker Owner of the Year by Re/Max International in 2005. Jones’ dedication, persistence and work ethic helped her become the respected business woman she is today. She is the president of the Salt Lake Chapter of Women’s Council of Realtors, sits on the board of the Asian Advisory Council for the State Office of Ethnic Affairs and the Asian Association of Utah, founded the Utah Alliance of Filipino Communities and helped found and then served as the first president of the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce. “She is very community-oriented even though she is very successful in her business. She is not afraid to give back,” says ZeMin Xiao, current president of the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce. “She’s a great example for those of us that are just coming along.” On October 6, 2005, Governor Jon Huntsman signed an executive order officially creating the new State Office of Ethnic Affairs and four ethnic advisory councils — Black, Asian, Hispanic/Latino and Pacific Islander. Following the office designation, each group eventually formed its own chamber of commerce to support and promote businesses and professionals who represent their respective cultures. “The issues that the different ethnicities deal with is a big enough difference that we need our own organizations to keep us together,” says Xiao, President of the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce (representing Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Lao, Filipino, and others). Xiao explains, “Asians…are very entrepreneurial. Everywhere you go you tend to see them opening little mom-and-pop businesses to provide a good future for their children.” On the other hand, business ownership to Pacific Islanders is uncommon and therefore more basic training is needed. Ben Au, Chairman of the Board for Utah’s Pacific Islander Chamber of Commerce (representing Hawaiian, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Maori and others) as the newest of the ethnic chambers of commerce, states, “This is a new thing for Pacific Islanders. So far we have tried to provide information such as financing or how to start your own business and teach them the basics. We’ve had more success talking to the youth and encouraging them to become business owners. To get a new generation to believe they can become business owners is a work in progress.” These variations in the acceptance of entrepreneurship are reflected in the membership in each of the chambers, although time in operation is certainly a factor as well. Both the Black and Pacific Islander chambers have about 30 members (either businesses or professionals) while the Asian chamber has gathered about 100 members during the past three years. The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is the largest and most established of the ethnic chambers, formed in 1991 and representing approximately 11 percent of Utah’s population. All for One… While the businesses the chambers support are diverse — including restaurateurs, jewelers, entertainers, churches, real estate brokers, judges and architects — the strength of a strong, united front is powerful, which is why the ethnic chambers and two other business enterprises have come together to form United 4 Economic Development, a partnership to support small ethnic businesses. “Our whole focus is to be a single point of contact so that we can do our best to be efficient in being a catalyst and a promoter for small business owners,” says Stanley Ellington, Executive Director of the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce. “The push has been to build that coalition and help us establish federal contracts and some procurement opportunities because without those, the chambers are going to suffer.” In fact, one of the initiatives the chambers have come together to support is House Bill 99 sponsored by Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, which would allow business owners to voluntarily register their race and gender so that they can be notified of federal contracts that have been set aside for minority-owned businesses. “There is a huge amount of money and there aren’t enough businesses that compete for it,” Xiao says. Additionally, Xiao says, it’s important for members to inform themselves about what’s going on outside of their own communities. “We hosted the mayor’s debate last year and we have the candidates come and talk about issues that affect the Asian community in Salt Lake City. Registering to vote is something we really try to promote with our membership.” Albert C. Jones, a member of the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce, and the publisher and editor of The Diversity Times, has taken a different tactic to educating Utahns about different cultures. His Salt Lake City-based monthly newspaper reports on the multiculturalism of Utah, covered from all vantage points. As a veteran reporter, Jones is creating a new breed of ethnic newspaper — one focused on true multicultural experiences. And his efforts have recently been recognized on multiple fronts. In February, Jones was one of six recipients of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable’s 2008 Interfaith Award and in March he received the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce’s Entrepreneur of the Year award at its annual gala. Together with the chambers and role models such as Eunice Jones and Albert Jones, Utah will continue to encourage a thriving ethnic population that can enjoy all the benefits that entrepreneurship affords.
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