How South Dakota’s new Hispanic Chamber of Commerce plans to help businesses

·7 min read
From left, Kimberly Avila Rivas, Rita Rodriquez, Selene Zamorano-Ochoa and Jose Arreola are the four founders of the South Dakota Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a new nonprofit for the state that advocates and provides opportunities for business people in the Hispanic community.
From left, Kimberly Avila Rivas, Rita Rodriquez, Selene Zamorano-Ochoa and Jose Arreola are the four founders of the South Dakota Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a new nonprofit for the state that advocates and provides opportunities for business people in the Hispanic community.

The South Dakota Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a new nonprofit in the state, has formed to help the Hispanic community by offering resources and services to business owners in the area.

The idea behind the Hispanic Chamber had been in the works for years.

The four founding members – Selene Zamorano-Ochoa, Jose Arreola, Rita Rodriquez and Kimberly Avila Rivas – started by knocking on doors in 2017, hoping that the idea would get picked up. All founders are Sioux Falls-based except for Arreola, who is based in Mitchell.

Although it took some time, members of the Hispanic community started coming to them for help and advice, and soon they became a “mini, unofficial” chamber.

“Before we knew it, we were doing the job. We just didn’t have the title for it,” said Hispanic Chamber President & CEO Selene Zamorano-Ochoa.

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Zamorano-Ochoa said creating the Hispanic Chamber was important for representing the Hispanic community and for providing resources that those community members may not otherwise have access to.

Making the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce official

All of the founders have their own businesses.

Zamorano-Ochoa owns two business, Zamorano Business Management and Ochoa General Contractor. Avila Rivas also owns two business, Aaron's Cleaning Services and A&R Construction. Arreola owns Servicios Hispanos, and Rodriquez is the owner of Aurora Building LLC.

The founders soon realized the work was a lot of responsibility to keep up with in addition to their full-time jobs, personal startups and families.

By pooling their resources and officially starting the nonprofit, they could get more support and more people involved to keep it growing.

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Finally, in October of 2021, the South Dakota Hispanic Chamber officially registered with the state as a nonprofit, and it is also a part of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber’s goal is to be a one-stop-shop for the Hispanic community to come to with questions on starting or running a business, providing education and advocacy programs, and promoting Hispanic businesses.

“We see a lot of people who don’t have a chair on a board, or they don’t have their own business yet, but they’re still doing a lot of work in the community,” Zamorano-Ochoa said. “We also want to recognize those people and the amazing things they’re doing by being an advocate and creating more opportunities for them to succeed.”

A supplemental chamber — not a substitute

The group was clear that the Hispanic Chamber isn’t trying to overstep other local chambers of commerce in the state.

“We’re not trying to divide ourselves or be a substitute,” said Hispanic Chamber secretary Rita Rodriquez. “It’s more so that we would like to focus on the Hispanic community and our unique needs.”

Rodriquez explained how those needs might be different, and how that might include translating or providing step-by-step guides on how to open a business in Spanish.

Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce logo
Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce logo

“The other chambers in South Dakota offer amazing opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Zamorano-Ochoa, whose own business is a part of the Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. “So I like to say we [the Hispanic Chamber] have become not a separate chamber, but a beautiful addition to all the other chambers.”

Jeff Griffin, president & CEO of the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce, said their leadership met with the Hispanic Chamber early in the group’s formation process.

“Our organizations have a shared desire to grow the Sioux Falls business community,” Griffin said, “and we look forward to working with them as a partner in the future.”

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The founders also spoke about how having representation and showing a face can make a difference.

The Hispanic community was active in making the South Dakota driver's license exam materials available in Spanish back when the bill was passed in 2020.

“Having the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and seeing people like them willing to help, will just continue to give people a confidence boost,” Avila Rivas said.

For Abe Castro, a restauranteur originally from Mexico and California, it’s nice to see organizations like this.

Flying Santo taco bar is a new restaurant that will open in later this summer in the Jones421 Building in downtown Sioux Falls. The mural was painted by Jillian Artistry as construction continues on the inside of the space. One of the owners, Abe Castro, said he is considering joining the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Flying Santo taco bar is a new restaurant that will open in later this summer in the Jones421 Building in downtown Sioux Falls. The mural was painted by Jillian Artistry as construction continues on the inside of the space. One of the owners, Abe Castro, said he is considering joining the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“We’re definitely going to look into joining the [Hispanic Chamber],” said Castro, who is opening Flying Santos taco bar in Sioux Falls this summer. “It’s great to see that diversity, especially in the Hispanic community, is growing as well in town.”

In July, the Hispanic Chamber is holding a flea market in Sioux Falls, and Latin community members have the opportunity to become vendors. The details for that are still being ironed out as the Chamber has had more initial interest than they were expecting, Zamorano-Ochoa said.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Zamorano-Ochoa said. “It’s way bigger than we thought it would be.”

The organization is also seeking volunteers to help with the flea market, and those interested can reach out through Facebook.

Eventually, the Hispanic Chamber plans to create workshops that will teach Latino business owners how to manage their business and bring in more revenue, as well as hold open houses for new businesses in South Dakota communities.

Tackling challenges in the Hispanic Community

One of the major challenges for many Hispanic business owners and community members is the language barrier, the Hispanic Chamber said.

“I had the advantage of knowing both languages,” said treasurer Kimberly Avila Rivas, who was born and raised in Sioux Falls. For many immigrants, finding access to English and business courses before coming to the United States can be difficult, and that makes it more difficult to run a business here.

“Because of my education,” Avila Rivas continued, “I know how to find and be that resource for others… I had many opportunities, and I want to continue to help other people in the Hispanic community have those same opportunities.”

Zamorano-Ochoa said another problem they’re seeing in the Hispanic community is business retention, especially after so many businesses closed permanently during the pandemic. Before starting the Chamber, the founders worked with the Dream Coalition, supporting Latino businesses that didn’t qualify for COVID-19 funding.

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The group explained how the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce could possibly help solve some of the issues happening in the larger community.

“Right now, there’s a lack of resources such as Spanish safety training,” Zamorano-Ochoa said, “and that’s something we can help with, for example. We need to work on keeping those subcontractors and their businesses open at the same time, which can then help with demand for laborers and the shortage of homes in the community.”

Zamorano-Ochoa also said the Hispanic Chamber wants to make accommodations for Hispanic business owners who might work in restaurants or construction. They might not have the time to attend events and seminars on growing a business during the work day, so the Chamber will hold events that adjust for schedule needs.

How others can get involved with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 

Because the Hispanic Chamber is still getting started, the founders are waiting on getting the appropriate funding through sponsors and donations before going ahead with some of those bigger ideas.

As of now, there are nine businesses in the Chamber, but most of them are owned by the founders. People who are interested in becoming a member can join online. As of now, there is also not a cost to join the Hispanic Chamber, but there will be in the future.

“We are trying to find an affordable solution to help these businesses grow without having them stress about the price or about not being able to get the support they need,” said Hispanic Chamber Vice President Jose Arreola. “We want everyone to be able to feel included.”

Part of their job will include traveling and advocating for people around the state and hopefully get other community leaders to join in.

“I think with starting the first official South Dakota Hispanic Chamber, it’s going to open so many doors for other groups–other communities–and encourage them to do this as well,” Arreola said. “And promoting our communities–it’s our goal. It’s what we do.”

This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: What to know about South Dakota's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce