In 1988, broker Conrad Santiago was new to Orlando, Fla., and new to the financial services industry. The Puerto Rican native came to Florida to build a better life with his wife and new baby. He wanted (and needed) to get to know people to help nurture his business.
The American Express Financial Advisors rep also believed — and still does — that “community service is an obligation, not an option.” So joining the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce was a logical fit.
Shortly after joining, Santiago noticed there was another Hispanic commerce organization. The older, but smaller Latin Chamber of Commerce, made up largely of Cuban-Americans, was doing basically the same work and carrying the same message to the community.
So Santiago, treasurer of the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, started conversations with Latin chamber officials regarding an alliance. And in 1993, the two chapters merged into the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
Santiago was elected the first president of the chamber and is still on the board of directors. Since that time, the chamber has grown in influence and size to include more than 800 Hispanic business leaders in central Florida.
While the combined business group works, distinct social organizations remain. “It is important that the cultures have separate social organizations,” Santiago says. “We have the Puerto Rico House and the Cubans still have the Cuban Social Club, but when it comes to commerce and business, it is better to be united.
“We needed a [combined] organization so we could network and expand our business,” he says. “Secondly, we needed to get access to information about government, corporate and community issues. We can serve as a link between the Hispanic community and the government.”
The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has coordinated meetings with Orlando city officials, Orange County, Fla., commissioners and Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss issues affecting Florida's sizable Hispanic population. The chamber also helped draft Orange County's micro-loan program, which aids small businesses through the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund.
Its work has not gone unnoticed. The National Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recognized Orlando's Hispanic Chamber of Commerce as the Best Small Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in the region in 2000.
Santiago obviously knows how to form an alliance and is adept at bringing people together.
He also knows how to interact with government officials. Could he be a budding politician? “I've been asked about that before,” he says. “Maybe in the future, in 10 years, I might consider something like that. Right now, I enjoy my practice and raising my family.”
And if Santiago ever does toss his hat into the political ring, he would likely garner ample support from fellow members of the Orlando Hispanic business community.