Mark Martinez says the state economy will be healthy when Latino companies are robust and hiring again.

Q&A: Mark Martinez of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce

Published: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Thursday, Mar. 14, 2013 - 7:54 am

Born and raised in the Salinas Valley, Mark Martinez founded a water treatment company and a commercial fire and security systems firm. He became a leader in promoting Latino businesses as chief executive officer of the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Now Martinez, 47, is the new president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, which today is hosting a special economic summit at the Sacramento Convention Center.

Featuring about 220 private sector business representatives, educators and government officials, the event is intended to inspire "the development of Hispanic entrepreneurs and emerging Latino businesses in California."

The Hispanic Chambers of Commerce is also working with the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business on a study of the state of Latino businesses in California.

We hear a lot about the increasing political clout of Latinos, particularly after the 2012 presidential election. What are we learning about their economic clout in California – and how can that be harnessed going forward?

A large composition of Hispanic businesses are in the one-to-10-employee category. As the economy struggled, so did these small businesses in access to capital, in resources. Many had declining revenues and had to lay people off and were required to do more with less. But we're seeing things gradually come back. These small businesses make up the largest segment of jobs being created in California. And we are not the profile of business being recruited out of California. So the sustainability and growth for our businesses are important to California's economy.

An element of our summit is to have a clear discussion on what it will take for growth going forward and how we, as an organization, can assist in creation of jobs, whether in green technology or health care or biotech.

What is unique and evolving for the Hispanic business sector in California?

What is unique about the entrepreneurial experience for the Latino community is the real sense of pride in culture and opportunity. I think you're seeing niche markets in creating industries that evolve around our culture. You're starting to see industries such as Paleteria La Michoacana out of Modesto, an ice cream company that has really blossomed, starting with a dream of entrepreneurship embracing the cultures and flavors of Mexico. And there is Ruiz Foods in Dinuba, right outside of Visalia. It's one of the largest providers of frozen Mexican foods. They took a family recipe and made it mainstream. You are seeing many of these new businesses growing and utilizing culture and utilizing families and now becoming successful businesses here in California.

America's most bountiful agricultural region, the San Joaquin Valley, is facing a shortage of farmworkers and an aging agricultural labor force. What role do you see for immigration reform for the future of California agriculture?

I think it's important that reform gets worked out at some point. Agriculture in the Central Valley and California is vital for the world. At some point, our electeds in Washington, D.C., need to come up with real answers, the sooner the better so that we can plan for our business and continue to prosper in agriculture.

Generally speaking, what would you like to see from elected officials – both in Washington and in Sacramento – to enhance opportunities for Latino businesses and would-be entrepreneurs?

I think so much attention is focused on big business. I think it's very important that our decision-makers really see the value and importance of the success of small businesses in California. When small businesses succeed, we all win. We will have wealth creation, jobs creation, sales tax generation and contributions to the social safety net.

Call The Bee's Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

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