Since he joined the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2013 as President and CEO, Mark Madrid has seen the city’s Hispanic community have a tremendous economic impact. But he’s also witnessed a lot of lost opportunities. “Austin is an academic hub,” he says. “But the limited supply of visas for high-skilled workers in the Austin area means we’re losing STEM-related professionals after they graduate from those universities. We’re losing valuable talent and the potential to innovate.”
In addition to the demand for STEM-related professionals—especially in a city like Austin where entrepreneurship drives the economy—Madrid has seen a broad demand for Hispanic employees that exceeds the supply. Employers regularly approach the Chamber to help them staff their businesses with employees that can better serve their customer base. “This could be a Home Depot saying we want store managers to be bilingual or we need more diversity, or it could be Enterprise Rent-A-Car wanting more Latino workers, or it could be the University of Texas wanting to recruit more Hispanics for their MBA program,” says Madrid, a third-generation Mexican-American. “People are starting to realize that their businesses have to look like the people they’re serving, and there’s an ever-growing Hispanic influence in terms of demographics. Everybody is waking up and saying we’ve got to disrupt our system.”
Uncertain immigration status is preventing valuable talent from contributing to the Austin economy, so we have to make the economic argument—aside from the humanitarian one.
The Chamber is helping to spur this disruption with programming to help Hispanics develop business and entrepreneurial skills. This includes Startup Superstars—launched in March 2015— which challenges high school students in a Shark Tank-style business competition. “Have any of these kids gone on to open a business? That’s not the case—yet!” Madrid says. “But you have to start somewhere, and getting these kids a business education early on, and introducing them to entrepreneurial superstars, will ultimately benefit our community.” In fact, a research study found that in 2013, 30,000 Hispanic-owned businesses existed in the Greater Austin Area; by 2020, that number is expected to hit 50,000. “It was an a-ha moment for us,” Madrid says. “It projected that by 2020, those businesses could be pumping as much as $12.8 billion in revenue into the Central Texas economy.”
For that reason, Madrid hopes that federal immigration reform will help encourage creativity and entrepreneurship in the immigrant community. “One in four people living in the U.S. is an immigrant or has a parent who’s an immigrant,” he says. But “uncertain immigration status is preventing valuable talent from contributing to the Austin economy, so we have to make the economic argument—aside from the humanitarian one. It’s critical for our communities. It makes business sense.”