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Q&A: Ricardo Villa Ushers in Change at Hispanic Chamber

The ‘Fix It Guy’ Helping to Transform Newly Merged Organization

San Diego County Imperial Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SDCIVHCC) President Ricardo Villa has a history of making quick changes to organizations he has worked for. As a general manager in the hotel industry, he was known as “the fix-it guy” assigned to underperforming assets and could quickly figure out what’s wrong with a hotel, reduce redundancy and make the business efficient.

Ricardo Villa
San Diego County Imperial Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

“That’s my education, my background, my talent,” Villa said.

After general manager positions in the hotel industry, Villa went into the human resources and payroll industry, eventually founding his own payroll company.

“What I started learning with my own business is there is a lot of information that businesses need when they start from ground zero and they go through the same struggles,” he said. “And either one or two things happen: either someone educates them and they’re able to grow from a sole proprietorship, or they stay there. And the percentage that stay is larger than those that elevate.”

Villa’s solution to shorten the process of educating businesses to help them grow hinged on building trust.

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“People don’t generally trust each other, especially in business,” he said. “They will trust their friends or their relatives, but they won’t trust as easily any organization that comes and tells them this point-of-sale system is better for you, this insurance is better for you – those are the hard sells.”

To help make those hard sells to businesses, Villa stepped up his involvement with the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and in 2019 joined the board and served as treasurer. The following year he became vice-chair and in 2021 the board elected him chair.

In his first year as chair, the fix-it guy has already helped implement major changes to the organization like adding Imperial Valley to its coverage area and transforming to the San Diego County Imperial Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; changing the chamber’s leadership title from chair to president; and changing the chamber’s mission statement to reflect a more inclusive membership beyond Hispanic and Latino businesses.

The San Diego Business Journal recently sat down with Villa to discuss these changes at the SDCIVHCC and what they mean for the local community of businesses.

How and why did you modify your mission statement?

In the past, it  focused solely serving the Hispanic and Latino businesses.

We looked at our market and our member demographics and we found that they were similar. 64% of our membership is Latino, 10% are Asian and close to 6% are African Americans. We felt the need to reflect this in our mission statement to support all of these communities. Our mission statement is:

“Creating and promoting a favorable business climate for emerging businesses, advance economic development, provide fair and equitable access to the marketplace for companies and provide and to support education and culture initiatives for the Greater San Diego and Imperial Valley Community.”

Why are other groups looking to join chamber?

I think what they’ve seen over the last couple years is our mission and our focus has changed. We’ve returned back to the mission of opening markets, and those markets are important to businesses – because of supply chains for one, plus access to capital, access to individuals and groups outside what they are accustomed to.

Our monthly events are focused on the networking component. Our board is focused on when somebody walks in and appears to be by themselves, we make sure to go and engage with them and ask what they’re looking for, who they want to meet.

What are your networking programs?

We have Cafècito & Networking, which is unique to our chamber. It allows anybody to walk in and have coffee and connect with other businesses. We have those on Tuesdays, four days out of the month.

On Wednesdays we have them in Spanish virtually and we have grown all the way to Chihuahua and Bajio Querétaro – quite a few states south and north – and that allows people who are trying to do business in different markets, or are interested in going south or coming north, to collaborate directly with the businesses. They may be a large business or a small business and you don’t have to be a member to attend, it’s just connecting businesses virtually.

And we have other Cafècitos, three of them in the month, on Fridays. One that we’re excited about is with the San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce that we do once a month in El Cajon where we select a business to feature that is not a franchise or big brand. We invest in that business by promoting them on our social media, which creates its own experience. Again, they don’t have to be a member – that’s the key part.

And we have another program, Latino Business Connection. That one is in the evening and usually in Escondido on the first Tuesday of the month. The second one is in Chula Vista. What that does is help us develop a business’ feature presentation.

Anybody who wants to come learn, connect, network, grab something to eat can come connect there, but the focus of the event is to give our members the opportunity to elevate from just having a little elevator speech to a full presentation and we help guide them through that process as they prepare themselves for development.

What was impetus behind adding Imperial Valley to the chamber?

When I first took office, one of the first questions I asked as I was reestablishing and building collaborations was: ‘What Hispanic chamber is in the Imperial Valley?’ There wasn’t any, so I asked the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who we are affiliated with, title-wise, can we have it? And they said yes.

I came back to the board and explained the logic behind it. We have 180,000 residents who are developing right now, they have geothermal, solar, farming and there is a future there on our binational side. It also fit in with our Strategic Alliance with the San Diego & Imperial SBDC.

As we started progressing in opening and going into the Imperial Valley, there was a little resistance in territory, but then they eventually figured out our intent was to help.

What will the SDCIVHCC bring to Imperial Valley?

For one, we are working with San Diego State. I know they have a STEM facility they’ll be opening up in Brawley. With that, we’ll help participate with the NSF funding which is $800 million for the region’s businesses. And on top of that there’s CERF funding from the federal government for that region. Then you add on that lithium has been found in the Salton Sea, the opportunities are endless.

The part we are bringing to the table is that a lot of these businesses that have been operating for quite some time, family-owned businesses, are most likely going to get wiped out because big investments are coming. We know they are. The businesses that have supported the community for many years are now going to be pushed aside unless they catch up. We can help them with that aspect of having them adapt and still retain their location.

If somebody comes in and offers you $300,000 or more for a small little space and you can retire, that’s a great offer but the economic wealth left behind for your children is gone, it’s transferred over. That may be good in one aspect, but another aspect is what do we now offer our children to stay? Because eventually everybody will leave, and our history, traditions and practices in the region will be lost. We want to make sure those businesses and those families don’t get lost in that path.

What future initiatives do you wish to see at SDCIVHCC?

More than 70% of businesses that are still in process and family-owned are still sole proprietorships. They still don’t have access to capital because they don’t have all their accounting set up yet, so the build of the model is what keeps federal and state program funding unavailable to them.

The Board of Directors and my next goal is to bridge that gap. Through grants and our SDCHCC Foundation, our goal is to provide technical education, not just give money, but to say, ‘How do I get you to use QuickBooks? How do I separate your business entity from your personal finances, so you don’t comingle and now as opportunities come up, whether it’s grant money or whether it is assistance in some way or going to go get capital you now have the means to prove the right model that is acceptable to use?’

San Diego County Imperial Valley
Hispanic Chamber
of Commerce

PRESIDENT: Ricardo Villa
WEBSITE: sdchcc.org
CONTACT: (858) 268-0790
NOTABLE: The chamber is the region’s largest business association representing the San Diego-Tijuana Hispanic business community.

SDCIVHCC President Ricardo Villa described SDCIVHCC Vice President Josie Flores-Clark as “a great partner in leadership” at the Iluminada Gala, Sept. 23. Photo courtesy SDCIVHCC

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