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Sunday, 21 July 2013 22:00

Q&A: Carlos Sanchez, Ferris State University

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Carlos Sanchez Carlos Sanchez COURTESY PHOTO

 

That the West Michigan business community wants to hire and interact more with the Latino community is a sentiment Carlos Sanchez got used to hearing, having served as the director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for four years. Now in a role with Ferris State University’s Latino Business and Economic Development Center, Sanchez aims to build on the work he did at the chamber and be of greater benefit to the Latino community as a whole in the region. He sat down with MiBiz to discuss how he plans to help get Latinos into more senior positions at companies in the region and his new role in community outreach.

How would you describe the professional environment for Latinos in West Michigan?

Throughout those four years (at the chamber), I kept hearing from companies, often in financial services, that they needed professional Latinos. There are professional Latinos in the workforce, but there was something those professionals lacked. At the same time (I would meet professional Latinos who would) say, ‘I met this company but I don’t have opportunities to grow … in the company.’ So obviously there was a misconnection.

What does the Latino Business and Economic Development Center hope to accomplish?

What we found is that the common denominator amongst that group was that most of them are first generation college graduates. So they lack that professional network that can help them access mentorship and job opportunities. There was an opportunity to present this program to Ferris. They liked it, and they were willing to fund it. But they also wanted me to do something along the lines of economic development.

How was the switch from being at a business organization to more of an academic organization?

The difference is big. First of all in the size of the organization: I have lots of resources at hand, so that feels good. It is very similar from the standpoint that I am starting something new. I have a staff of one, which is myself. The interesting piece is that even though I work in academia … very little of my work has to do with students. It’s more community outreach.

What are the challenges and the opportunities on the economic development side of your new focus?

There are some that are very intent in supporting Latino-owned businesses, but there is a challenge in trying to find a Latino architect, for example — or a Latino dentist. The challenge for us, as an economic development entity, is to help entrepreneurs start the kind of businesses that are needed, not just another Mexican restaurant. There is nothing wrong with that, but there is not one (Latino) CPA that has a firm in West Michigan. Not one. That right there tells you there is work to be done.

What are the benchmarks as you progress in the work?

We have two tracks: One is on the Latino talent development program. We are launching our first cohort in the fall. That will be one of the benchmarks. After that, the participants know that it is a pilot program, so we will be looking for feedback from them. We are going to be reviewing the curriculum over, and over, and over … throughout the delivery of the program and at the end of the program. Once we have that, we will regroup and launch another session with a modified program (based on input from participants).

What’s the goal with the program?

We will continue developing those cohorts and in turn, hopefully, what we will see is in the following six months to a year, (someone who works) at let’s say, Fifth Third Bank, goes through our program (and is) able to achieve a higher level of responsibility or a higher position within the company. That will be a success for us. If a business owner was able to diversify its business in an area they never thought would be possible, that will be a success for us.

Grand Rapids is a very segregated city. What is being done on your organization’s part to integrate it better?

If you go west of U.S. 131, then you begin to see the “browning” of Grand Rapids. Our challenge, not just for the center, but for me personally and for Latinos like me, is to encourage our community to venture west of 131. To come to the restaurants, the venues, the events. It was my challenge when I was the director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and they still have that challenge. It is a challenge for this center that I lead now. The silver lining about being segregated is that we have two or three areas we can focus on (Bridge Street, Division Avenue, Grandville Avenue), either at the same time or try different things. The businesses along Bridge are a little bit different than the ones on Grandville or Division or Burton.

Interview conducted and condensed by Nick Manes.

Read 4958 times Last modified on Friday, 19 July 2013 12:53

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