ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dennis Garcia has a motto: “When opportunity comes knocking, we should open the door.”
It’s a slogan that has served him well over the years. As an undergraduate business student at the University of New Mexico, a job interviewer with consumer goods behemoth Procter & Gamble told him his skill set was a perfect fit for the banking industry. A few calls and 40 years later, Garcia is a senior vice president at U.S. Bank in Albuquerque.
“He was right, no question,” Garcia said. “Banking has given me the opportunity to travel the country, to see much of the world.”
Now Garcia has the opportunity to lead the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce as its chairman over the next year. The chamber’s 2018 chairwoman, attorney Michelle Hernandez, transferred the gavel to Garcia on Nov. 15. Ernie C’de Baca, the chamber’s president and CEO, said Garcia has been “a tremendous asset” on the organization’s board for the past four years.
“He’s the guy who’s always watching the bucks and making sure we do things right,” C’de Baca said. “He has a great background, and he’s got great enthusiasm. We’re very excited.”
So what are Garcia’s plans for the largest Hispanic chamber of commerce in the nation? He sat down with the Journal in late November and outlined his strategy.
Ever the numerate, Garcia said he thinks of his priorities in terms of four categories. One of is board engagement, both within the board itself and between the board and the chamber’s staff. Having sat on several other boards in the past, Garcia said what often makes the difference between a successful organization and an unsuccessful one are the strength of the connections among those at the top. That enthusiasm then filters down through the rest of the organization and throughout the membership.
“This is an extremely powerful group of folks,” Garcia said. “The more everyone is engaged with one another, the stronger everyone is. Very wonderful things can happen.”
Garcia is also convinced that the chamber can better leverage its existing contract with the city to bring Hispanic, Latino and Native American-focused conferences and conventions to Albuquerque.
“If we bring a group of Hispanic engineers to town, for example, how do we generate opportunities to get them to start and relocate businesses here?” he said. “We need a little more strategy in that area.”
The chamber’s core mission is economic development, and Garcia said he hopes to accomplish that not only by leveraging the conference contract, but also by expanding the chamber’s educational programming. The chamber is offering a new set of workshops aimed at showing businesses of all sizes how to participate in the procurement processes run by the national labs, hospitals and other large organizations in New Mexico. Garcia said he’d like the chamber to offer additional programming along the same lines, though the team is still working on the details of what such programming would look like.
Finally, Garcia wants the chamber to become a stronger advocate in the public policy arena.
“We need to have the chamber step up when needed, on national issues and local ones,” he said. “We don’t want to just say something for the sake of saying something. But we’ve come out in the past on critical issues, and we need to continue doing that.”
As for what the details of a stronger approach to advocacy might look like, Garcia isn’t ready to provide additional information. But he says the organization is working on it closely.
Like the banking industry, chambers of commerce have changed significantly in recent years. Garcia says many chambers are shrinking, in part because the networking functions long offered by such organizations are easily replicated online.
“We’ve been around since 1975, and we constantly have to ask ourselves, ‘What is the role of the chamber today?'” Garcia said. “We have to dig in so it doesn’t lose its mojo. It’s a challenge to continually provide a quality product and figure out how to define it.”
And yet Garcia said that in many ways, the Hispano chamber is in a different position than many of its more broadly focused counterparts. The organization has grown over the past few years and now totals about 1,200 members. In advance of its annual gala on Feb. 9 next year, the chamber is holding a summit to share its best practices and challenges with several other chambers from across the United States.
Garcia attributes the chamber’s success to many variables, but one key ingredient is its focus on both the small business community as well as Hispanic, Latino, Native American and other immigrant businesses, in particular those run by women. Those groups are driving significant growth in the national economy, according to Garcia, as well as locally in New Mexico.
“When you cater to small businesses, especially those run by Hispanic and Latina women, you’re working with one of the largest entrepreneurial groups you can find,” Garcia said. “People nationally are just beginning to understand that, and to understand the purchasing power of minority groups.”
Which brings Garcia to what he believes could be one of New Mexico’s biggest opportunities: embracing the fact that the diverse demographics it has today will be reflected by much of the nation in the coming decades. Teaching businesses here and elsewhere how to be successful in a more diverse economy is perhaps the task the state – and by extension, the chamber – is better positioned for than anywhere else in the country, according to Garcia. “If we can get it right now, we can lead the nation,” he said.