By Holly Marley-Henschen | Photography by Hillary Schave
Jessica Cavazos personally understands the challenges Latin community members face. She grew up in Milwaukee, but lived in Texas with her grandmother for three years while her single mother worked to save money for the family.
Now, as president and CEO of the Latino Chamber of Commerce in Dane County, Cavazos preaches and practices economic inclusivity. “Whether they’re workers or entrepreneurs or both, our economy is much better because they’re in it and they’re playing a part,” Cavazos says.
Her mission as the chamber leader is to help facilitate sustainable economies and a stronger future for Latinos, who continue to face gaps in advancement and feel the effects of marginalization — despite their rising demographic numbers. Though Latinos have been vital to the U.S. economy for generations, Cavazos says they’ve yet to see a significant accumulation of wealth.
To help bring this to fruition, the Latino Chamber of Commerce offers six classes a week on topics like scaling business and operations, while offering mentorship to members and others in the community.
Because of its small business focus, the chamber has been able to react and assist their members quickly during the pandemic. They have translated application materials when the State of Wisconsin distributed loans and grants in early 2020. It has helped restaurateurs adapt to the COVID economy by advising on the shift from dine-in service to pick-up and delivery operations, paring down menus and building on marketing.
Her passion and drive for helping small businesses hasn’t gone unnoticed. Cavazos was given the key to the Hispanic community in Milwaukee and the La Movida Hispanic Heritage Award in 2017. And in 2019, she was named an SBA Small Business Champion.
“It is in my blood, that desire to make a difference and be intentional fills me more so than anything. It’s being able to use the chamber as a vehicle for change,” Cavazos says, which is likely why she’s so involved in other aspects of community advancement — like co-founding the Wisconsin Latino Economic Development Corporation and serving as the Midwest representative for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Her 2021 plans include building her consulting firm, Intrinsica, which will be an advocacy arm for Latino busi- nesses nationwide that need support securing investment from governments as a way to get out of poverty. She also wants to create a podcast to empower women.
“She leads with her heart,” says Tiffany Kenney, executive director of Madison’s Central Business Improvement District. “I don’t think there’s anyone who works harder for her constituents.”