Jackie Puente becomes chair-elect of the USHCC
By Patricia Guadalupe
The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) is making history. Headquartered in Washington, D.C. with a network of more than 250 local chambers and business associations nationwide, it just named its first millennial leader as chair-elect of its board.
Jackie Puente has been with Comcast NBCUniversal for more than a decade, and is the USHCC’s current board vice chair. She takes the helm as chair for a two-year term starting in 2025. “It has been a privilege working with the USHCC for many years, going as far back as 2008. I admired the leaders on the board for many years, and always wanted to join the board, however I appreciated that they wanted more senior level people. I was really happy to be asked to join in 2019, the organization was in transition and there was an opportunity for corporate leaders to step up and help,” she tells LATINO Magazine. “I jumped at the opportunity to join the Government Affairs Committee and in time, became chair of government affairs. It gave me a great understanding of the Chambers’ work on the ground, and the advocacy side of the organization. That’s my real passion---the advocacy work and helping elevate the voice of the local chambers. It is an amazing group of people.”
Becoming the chair two years from now gives her time to prepare, she adds. “I think that chambers of commerce are going through a real difficult time right now, since it’s been tough for all businesses in the last three years, particularly with the pandemic and economic headwinds. We need to modernize the chamber, elevate the value proposition, and provide services members that respond to the challenges they are facing. Whether companies are big or small, and we have a great foundation to offer Hispanic business leaders meaningful opportunities.”
In January 2023, Puente was promoted to Vice President of External Affairs, reflecting her staunch advocacy for Latinos both within Comcast NBCUniversal and in the outside community. In her new role, she manages partnerships with stakeholders on policy issues, especially in media and technology. She is active on multiple boards in addition to the USHCC, including SER National Jobs for Progress, AAPD (formerly the American Association of People with Disabilities), and Virginia Community Capital/LOCUS, a regional bank.
Puente says that becoming the first millennial board chair is not just an honor but also a chance to showcase that the USHCC is serious about reaching out to younger Latino entrepreneurs and business leaders. “This can no longer be your grandfather’s or your father’s chamber of commerce. The average age of a person starting a business in our community is 28 – and thus it makes sense that entrepreneurs and business leaders in our community have different needs in our new economy. We need to become more future-oriented. The in-person networking and gatherings are of course very important and will continue, but if we’re going to thrive we need to be doing things that people are doing today---not what people were doing before---and make sure that they are talking about things and giving opportunities to people that really reflect what the new generation of Latino-owned businesses want.”
USHCC president and CEO Ramiro Cavazos couldn’t be more excited by Puente’s selection as chair-elect: “I am so impressed by Jackie. She was one of the first people I met when I joined the chamber [in 2018]. We hit it off immediately. She’s honest, refreshing and tells it like it is, always willing to be helpful and add value. I’ve admired her brilliance, her personality, and her commitment to our mission to help Latino-owned businesses. I consider Jackie to be one of the most trusted members of the board and I lean on her to get good advice especially when it comes to the media and the D.C. market. She’s the one who really gives me a lay of the land for folks inside Washington and what they’re thinking. She’s very talented and uses it for good.”
Cavazos adds that Puente is also an excellent role model, which certainly helps with outreach: “Jackie is a Latina in a high-level position, and we don’t have enough of that. She is a tremendous example of a Latina not just as our soon-to-be chair but as someone who has been working in corporate America for more than ten years and has really been able to represent Latinas across the country. We want to include young people. It isn’t just a slogan or a tag line, we want to include young people in our leadership. Jackie is very focused on innovation, technology, storytelling, and messaging. She’s our first chair who is wired like that because she works in the industry and is someone who can bring new ideas and represent the future when it comes to embracing branding and storytelling. She thinks very strategically and I believe those are the qualities that she brings to the table.”
The USHCC is very busy planning its annual conference, set for September 24-26 in Orlando. It will follow a very successful legislative summit in Washington, D.C. in March focused on connecting USHCC members with government officials. A month later, its second-annual energy summit in Santa Fe gave Latinos access to the growing energy sector.
Last year, President Biden signed an executive order directing every federal agency and department to set 15 percent as a targeting goal for contracting and doing business with Latino-owned businesses. But Cavazos notes, “We wanted them to make sure that we get our fair share of that infrastructure money, contracts, and that lending continues to get stronger. We’re very optimistic that both political parties know the importance of small business to grow the economy. There is a lot of money that is being provided to the private sector by the taxpayers and we want to make sure that it’s touching the Latino- and Latina-owned business sector in a big way and invested in our community, and how it’s all being implemented.”
Cavazos points to a recent procurement meeting at the U.S. Department of Energy which focused on supplier diversity, where not a single Latino group was present. “We reached out to them afterwards and they said they want to participate at the legislative summit and at our other events, so at least there’s something when before there was nothing,” he recalls.
Hispanic-owned businesses are the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy---84 percent of businesses that started in the last ten years were owned by Latinos and Latinas, and those businesses are founded at six times the national rate. There are five million Latina- and Latino-owned businesses in the country that contribute more than $800 billion to the economy annually, but there is still a lot of catching up to do. The percentage of federal contracts awarded to Hispanic-owned businesses is currently at less than two percent. Another challenge is access to capital, one of the key topics on the agenda at the conference in September, which will be the 44th-annual gathering for the organization.
According to Cavazos, “We’re getting evidence post-pandemic that Latino-owned businesses have better credit scores and more money in the bank, higher gross sales, but are still not receiving the loans from our major banking institutions. They’re getting approved for loans but for $50,000 and below. Above $50,000 is where it really matters in scaling businesses or growing them. We’ve done surveys of our members that our loan approval rates are lower, or the amounts when they are approved are not at the level that they’re asking for.”
Cavazos has also been busy meeting with a variety of companies to talk about the importance not only of contracting with Latino-owned businesses but of ensuring that a greater number of Latinos are in decision-making positions within those companies. The USHCC was among 12 national Latino groups that recently met with Google officials at the company’s headquarters in Mountain View.
“The good news is last year they had zero Latinos on their board and now they have one in Martin Chávez. We want that number to grow,” said Cavazos. “They were and honest and said they want to learn how they could do better.”
A seasoned Wall Street veteran, Chavez joined the board of Google’s parent Alphabet in July 2022.
Puente adds that the present as well as the future look very bright for USHCC: “We’re listening. We want to be responsive. We have so much data on what businesses need and we’re looking for new partners to put this data to work with new programs. We are fortunate to have a great CEO in Ramiro Cavazos, somebody who can effectively bring people together. Whether you want to expand your global business, contract with the federal government, or find more business with Fortune 100 companies, we are your partner to do that.”