The Orange County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce had its office at Cal State Fullerton’s Irvine Campus for the past two years, but as the campus prepares to close by the end of June, the center must now look for a new space.
The chamber is a nonprofit organization, with over 700 members representing the interests of over 30,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in Orange County, providing resources and aid through workshops, networking and training programs.
“We started 35 years ago by some entrepreneurs who felt that they didn't have the resources they needed as Hispanic business owners to grow their businesses and stuff. So from there, it's just growing into the organization that it is today,” said Reuben Franco, the president and CEO of the chamber.
On Jan. 25, CSUF’s office of the president said in a statement that the Irvine Campus would close by the end of June due to financial challenges and losing a lessee.
Right as the pandemic hit, the Western Law School’s lease ended on Banting 1, leaving an empty building with no occupant. According to the statement, after the university put Banting 1 on the market, a package deal was offered for both Banting 1 and Banting 3 properties.
The chamber is located in Banting 1 of the Irvine Campus. The organization knew months ahead of the office of the president’s announcement that the building was on the market, Franco said.
Franco said that as of March, most of the chamber’s staff had been working remotely. Aside from the Irvine location, the chamber also has a small office in Fullerton.
With the sale of the Irvine Campus, the chamber is currently looking for alternative sites.
“We're just trying to figure out how do we configure going forward, because our services are delivered all over the county,” Franco said.
The chamber focuses on three main pillars when it comes to supporting the small businesses under their organization, Franco said.
The chamber’s first focus is advocacy. They advocate for the small businesses through local elected officials in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., where Franco meets up with legislators to advocate on behalf of the small businesses.
Its second focus is on economic development through its Small Business Development Program. The program is hosted by the only four Hispanic chambers in the country. With this program they are able to receive funding through legislative aid like the California governor’s office and the Small Business Administration.
“We want to make sure that they're healthy, that those are the right type of programs that are out there,” Franco said. “We work on trying to help our businesses start, grow and succeed.”
The third aspect the organization concentrates on is education. The nonprofit also developed the Orange County Hispanic Youth Chamber of Commerce. The youth program focuses on career development, community involvement and access to higher education.
Students from nearby schools such as UC Irvine, Chapman University and CSUF can attend the program for free. Students are met with opportunities to network, work on resume writing and participate in different programs that will help them succeed as they begin their careers.