Rick Ortiz has been president and CEO of the Greater Dallas Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2012. He’s proud of the support the chamber provides to Latino small business owners and the assistance it gives to low-income residents of the community. But he’s especially proud that the chamber’s members have an economic impact in Dallas that reaches far beyond the Hispanic community.
Take Claudia Mizra, the CEO of the Texas-based company Akorbi, who participated in a small business program at the chamber 14 years ago. “She’s now one of our greatest success stories,” says Ortiz. “She’s got a business that’s 600 employees strong,” and the majority of her employees are American. Today, the chamber is helping to motivate others like Mizra. In 2015, they launched ScaleUp Dallas/Fort Worth, a 10-week program that helps small companies establish themselves within the community and grow quickly. “Then you graduate, and there’s an ecosystem we’ve built to continue helping those small businesses,” Ortiz says. “We have partnerships with the Dallas area black and Asian chambers of commerce, so this ecosystem is quite unique.”
There’s a lack of conversation at the higher levels of government.
Ortiz believes that immigration reform would encourage even more economic development in Dallas, but he worries that it’s simply not a priority in government—or that it’s too polarizing to facilitate conversations that lead to action. “There’s a lack of conversation at the higher levels of government,” Ortiz says. “We are a nation and state of rules, so we [at the chamber] are just trying to operate within the framework that’s available. But we don’t discriminate against people based on their immigration status because, at the end of the day, we’re here to serve and advocate for the people that come through our offices the best that we can.” To keep both the local and national economies growing, he sees an immediate need for guest worker programs and a road to citizenship for undocumented people who are working and contributing to the economy.
“All we can keep doing on our end is moving forward with our mission and belief, which is that economic development and education are tied together, and one leads to another,” he says. “The positive impact of immigration is well documented, and as long as the topic is discussed at the governmental level, these are the things we will hope for, and consider, and advocate for.”