Veronica Garcia-Ramierez: Empowering Hispanic business leaders in Grand Rapids
Growing up in West Michigan wasn't always easy for Veronica Ramirez-Garcia. Now a successful Latina leader in the region, she faced both language difficulties and cultural stereotypes on her career path. Despite these obstacles, she has used her experiences as a catalyst to empower Hispanic business leaders and build a community of entrepreneurs as Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
Garcia-Ramirez’ family blazed the trail for opportunities for Hispanics in West Michigan, which have grown significantly over the past few decades. At the age of 3, her family moved from Mexico to the Holland-Zeeland area. Being one of the first Hispanic families in the area, she was presented with both challenges and opportunities, and often found herself between two cultures. At home, her family only spoke Spanish and taught their cultural roots. At school, she had to learn English quickly and fit in with non-Hispanic friends. Though she struggled at first, she learned English to full proficiency with the help of friends and teachers.
“Today as I look back I am thankful [for] my parents for keeping our home Spanish,” Ramirez-Garcia said. “Now I can consider myself fortunate on being one of the few individuals who are 100 percent bilingual in Spanish both verbal and written.”
Another challenge Ramirez-Garcia faced was breaking the stereotypes linked to Latina women, including dropping out of school, getting pregnant early, getting married at a young age, and not attending college.
“As I overcame many of these stereotypes, I noted that other people [outside] my family saw me different to the extent that they did not believe I was a Latina,” Ramirez-Garcia said.
After graduated with a degree from Western Michigan University
, Ramirez-Garcia honed her business skills at companies such as Pathways MI
, Universal Forest Products
, and the Michigan Small Business and Technology Development Center
(MI-SBTDC). Her experience in finance and business development would be crucial elements in the elevation of her career.
Ramirez-Garcia leveraged from both her professional and personal experiences for her next role as Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 2012. Founded in 2006, the chamber is home to over 200 large, medium, small, and micro businesses. Its purpose is to work with all members of the community to increase the economic advancement of Hispanic owned businesses and to assist the professional growth of Hispanic business leaders in West Michigan. It offers networking, trainings, resources and various events to its members.
When Ramirez-Garcia became the Executive Director of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, she didn't know exactly what to expect. With only a few days to conceptualize her plans for the organization, she used the knowledge of her staff and board members to finish her first year with impressive results. Despite the lack of time, she would not disappoint. In her first year, she increased membership, participation on chamber events, the number of programs offered to members, and created greater awareness of the organization throughout West Michigan.
“My vision of the chamber is to be considered a one-stop shop for the Hispanic businesses and entrepreneurs as well as great resources for the non-Hispanic businesses that are trying to tap into the Hispanic Market in West Michigan,” Ramirez-Garcia said.
Ramirez-Garcia worked diligently to forge partnerships with key corporations and organizations that could provide greater benefits to their local membership. Some of these partners include Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women
(GROW), the Small Business Development Center
(SBDC), the Small Business Association
(SBA), the Internal Revenue Service
(IRS) and other local agencies including area chambers. Ramirez-Garcia believes that creating partnerships and utilizing resources and services already present can simply accomplish more.
“My ideas have always been to provide the greatest [return on investment] for our members,” said Ramirez-Garcia, “I am trying to not be an organization that duplicates efforts.”
Ramirez-Garcia said West Michigan is thriving with entrepreneurs and businesses, a trend that is also evident in the West Michigan’s Hispanic community. Over the years, she has seen many businesses and corporations start and grow.
“I believe that West Michigan has great opportunities for business,” Ramirez-Garcia said, “It is a matter of business owners [needing] to find the resource to go about in making their business succeed.”
Some of the areas Ramirez-Garcia points to that need support are in financing and lending. Due to cultural issues and a lack of knowledge of the lending system, many business owners and entrepreneurs are hesitant to request a bank loan for their business. Ramirez-Garcia is working with banks and other financial institutions to change this.
“I have seen many of the banking institutions start to target the Hispanic community and provide resources as well as bilingual literal to create awareness,” Ramirez-Garcia said. “I believe West Michigan will continue to succeed.”
Ramirez-Garcia’s outlook for 2014 is another busy and successful year. She hopes to create more partnerships and generate even more awareness for businesses who work with Hispanic customers. She wants business owners to know that the chamber serves all of West Michigan and much of the southwestern region, including St. Joseph, Kalamazoo, and Battle Creek. Membership also does not have any language requirements.
“One of the main things that individuals and businesses should know is that to be part of the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber, you do not need to speak Spanish,” Ramirez-Garcia said.
To learn more about the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, please visit http://www.hccwm.org
Kevin Lignell is a community activist, globetrotter, and freelance writer for UIX Grand Rapids