City Life

Latino chamber finds a great fit in Fitchburg

Jessica Cavazos is the first full-time leader

The entrepreneurial buzz in Madison is palpable everywhere I go. Even in the nonprofit community, where I spend a lot of time in my day job, the creativity and ingenuity I see make me proud to be a Madisonian.

Even though I think of Fitchburg as a part of the Madison entrepreneurial ecosystem, the civic and business communities there have their own unique approaches to economic development. I learned more about it during a visit with Jessica Cavazos, the new executive director of the Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County—the first full-time leader in the group’s nearly 20-year history. With a high concentration of Latino businesses in Fitchburg, it makes sense for the chamber’s new office to be located there. Cavazos says Fitchburg is “thinking ahead in terms of partnerships” with chamber members, offering tools and resources to engage the community with business owners through events and expos.

The timing of the move is also right, as the chamber rolls out the county-funded Emerging Business Development Center, or EBDC, as a hub for job creation, community revitalization and infrastructure and capacity building. Specifically, Cavazos says the chamber will strengthen collaborations with other business assistance programs. They include the Latino Academy, a workforce development organization that offers dual language training and certification and employee advocacy, and Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., which provides a wide variety of business assistance programs and low-interest loans to women and people of color. Marketing grants, mentoring and facilitating access to business services are other elements of the EBDC’s work.

The grant funding has also allowed the chamber to build its capacity—hiring Cavazos and filling two part-time business development and engagement positions. The chamber’s history dates back to 1998, when it organized to address business advocacy issues. It became a nonprofit in 2003 and developed ties with Madison College Center of Entrepreneurship and Centro Hispano.

Cavazos is excited to put her full-time energy and expertise to work.

“It’s such an important and viable business community that’s part of the economic tapestry of our state,” she says. “Our task is to talk business owners out of their silos to help them see how they can grow, and the value of that growth,” says Cavazos, who seems well suited to advocate for small businesses.

Cavazos has spent most of her career in public service, working for city and state legislators and seeing firsthand how public policy affects the business sector in Wisconsin. When she left her post as constituent liaison for congresswoman Gwen Moore in 2012, she worked for ELEVA Group, then started a business working with government to reduce duplication of services with the private sector, and on efforts aimed at corporate social responsibility. Her experience as an entrepreneur deepens her respect for and commitment to the people she now serves.

“I want to make sure we can do our best to help business owners—Latinos or not—start businesses,” she says.

A member's viewpoint

The Latino Chamber of Commerce of Dane County’s membership at 100state offers advantages to entrepreneurs like Brandie de la Rosa, who runs a workplace violence advisory business for domestic violence survivors.

How does the LCC help? They have provided resources and mentorship within their Emerging Business Development Center and strategic partnerships that have led to incoming business. Everyone at the Latino chamber has been tremendous—always friendly and extremely helpful every step of the way.

Why work at 100state? It is centrally located and offers training space, conference rooms and access to networking opportunities. 

What has the impact been? I have made some very critical business connections by working in the same space as other business owners. Executive director Greg St. Fort has helped ensure I have everything I need.

Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at brennannardi@gmail.com.


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