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Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce makes a comeback

Courtesy photo

The business organization hopes to develop a roadmap that the community can embrace and understand and support.

The pandemic was tough on a lot of businesses. It also was tough on a lot of business organizations.

That includes the Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which was founded in 2002. Its membership dipped the last few years as it struggled to find its way.

But the chamber has put together new leadership, and it held an event last month to relaunch the organization.

Maria Kury is the new board chair. She spoke with Tom Shine and The Range about the challenges Hispanic businesses face and the economic clout of the Hispanic community.

TOM SHINE: What do you collectively want the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to be? 

MARIA KURY: We all agreed that our biggest strength was that passion that we have to serve our community and the connections that we all share. So … working from that, we decided that our new vision is focused on serving the Hispanic community especially, but serving the Wichita community in general by elevating the voices of our Hispanic people and our Hispanic business owners.

Why should someone join the Chamber? 

The Wichita Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is the first minority organization in Wichita, and … we work to be the bridge between the Hispanic community and the non-Hispanic community, not only for business owners that are trying to reach the Hispanic market, but also for Hispanic entrepreneurs that are trying to expand or to create their new businesses.

The Hispanic community is the fastest-growing community, not only in Wichita, but in the United States.

So … getting to know the community, getting to know what the needs are, what moves us, what we find important, what are our values, and how their companies, their products or their services feed those needs or feed on that lifestyle. I think it's very, very important.

Do people sometimes underestimate the economic impact of the city's Hispanic community? It's quite large. 

It is. And we are a very loyal market and people tend to not pay attention to that. We are an incredibly loyal market and consumer. I still buy brands that I saw my mom buy when I was a kid. Not because I think that they're the best brand, but because I know that that's what my mom bought and probably that's what her mom bought.

We are very loyal consumers, and we are the perfect stereotype of what a consumer is: We buy as much as we can, and businesses tend to forget that.

Here's the … tricky thing about the Hispanic community:

As long as you treat us fairly, we will give in exchange our loyalty. But if you don't treat us fairly, then we will forget about you very quick and very fast. So that's why … the Hispanic market is a tricky, very interesting place.

What are some of the obstacles that Hispanic businesses face that are particular to Hispanic businesses? 

I can think of a few. The language barrier is a very important one.

We have to take into account immigration status. How does that affect not only their business, but maybe the potential employees that they would want to have? And all the cultural barriers that minority communities face every day.

There seems to be some momentum to revitalize the Nomar District (along 21st between Broadway and Arkansas). Will your group be part of that effort? 

Empower is the organization that is doing great things to revive Nomar … and we are great supporters of Empower and their mission. One of their staff members sits on our board. So we have that great relationship with them and will support and will help.

Because that's the other thing that we are really focusing on this year is we have a lot of organizations that work on behalf of the Hispanic community, but historically there has never been like a togetherness effort to do things for each other. And we want to change that.

What's success going to look like a year from now for the Chamber? 

We want the community to know about us, and we want to … be that first organization that they think of when somebody's thinking about the Hispanic community. ‘Well, let's reach out to the Hispanic Chamber. They'll know how to help us.’ We want to be that.

I don't know if we'll make it in one year, right? But whatever gets us closer to that position, that will be success.

Tom joined KMUW in 2017 after spending 37 years with The Wichita Eagle where he held a variety of reporting and editing roles. He also is host of The Range, KMUW’s weekly show about where we live and the people who live here. Tom is an adjunct instructor in the Elliott School of Communication at Wichita State University.