Master communication and marketing guru Lisa Urias understands the tremendous economic impact of immigration on her home state. “We have a benefit being a border state, and that benefit is tremendous,” says the CEO of Urias Communications, a company that grosses roughly $6 million annually. “We have almost $17 billion in total trade value right now between Arizona and Mexico. “It’s a very significant positive for our businesses here.” And because of Arizona’s aging population of baby boomers and retirees, young workers are needed.
“In this economy, we need to retain them, and we need to attract them,” Urias says. “But often, businesses don’t have the resources from the federal government available to them, in terms of visas, to enable them to bring in the kind of numbers that they need. The idea that immigrants are taking jobs from Americans clearly hasn’t been reflective in the businesses that we work with in the States,” Urias says decisively. “That’s part of the overarching economic impact and the net positive impact that immigration has on our state.”
How, all of sudden, can you suggest that there’s a need to push Latinos out?
As a fourth-generation Arizonan Latina, the issue is also personal for Urias. Her family has deep ties to the greater Phoenix community. “My great-grandparents came here when it was still a territory in the late 1800s,” she explains. “The vitriol and rhetoric that occurred around the issue of Mexican immigrants was really kind of shocking to me because I grew up here. We have longstanding roots here.” Her grandfather was a city council member in the 1940s and ’50s.
“We have been an instrumental part of the growth of Arizona and the history of Arizona,” Urias says. “The idea that, all of a sudden, we would vilify 40 percent of the Phoenix population and 30 percent of the state was really unbelievable to me…How, all of sudden, can you suggest that there’s a need to push Latinos out, or that they’re not a significant part of the overall contributing members of this community?”
Urias started out as a journalist but then became the director of international affairs for a utility company. There, she worked with 70 different countries on technology transfer programs, like how to run water systems in semi-arid climates. After NAFTA passed, she moved into marketing energy services to Mexico. “I formed a partnership with a Mexican energy company and a former undersecretary of energy,” Urias says. “I worked with all the new energy companies that had sprung up in the United States as their U.S. liaison to the new energy companies. Then I started this agency in 2004 as a response to the growing Hispanic market, particularly within the U.S. Southwest. I really wanted to help corporations market to those consumers.” The multicultural focus of Urias Communications found a niche in addressing an underserved need for strategic marketing, and the business flourished.
Urias Communications now has seven fulltime employees and brings in millions. “Almost all of our staff is Latino,” Urias says. “They’re from every range of demographic that you could have in the Latino market. We have a fifth-generation American Hispanic; we have first-generation Latino immigrants. In fact, one of my creative members is a permanent legal resident, and I am always pushing him to get his citizenship because I want him to vote.” The firm has won various industry awards, including an Addy Award, the National Best of Blue Award, and a Copper Quill Award. Urias has also garnered accolades herself; the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has given her the Woman of the Year award, calling her a trailblazer for Latina women. Currently, they are merging with another Arizona-based communications and government relations firm. The new blended business, CoNecs North America, will have 14 staffers.
Urias also stays busy with various public service commitments. She’s an invited member of the board of the Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business leadership organization comprising 250 Arizona CEOs who focus on state-level, civic-improvement initiatives. Her other affiliations include Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and the Arizona Community Foundation.