Juan Rivera has been the chairman of Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce Central Texas since it was established almost two years ago.
The 27-year military veteran and owner of Insurance Agency Mall in Killeen is at the forefront of a movement to strengthen the Latino business presence in the Killeen-Fort Hood area. Rivera talked with the Herald about why the area needs a chamber specifically for Hispanic Americans and how he thinks it benefits the entire community.
What exactly is the Hispanic American Chamber of Commerce Central Texas? Why does the area need a chamber of commerce specifically for Hispanic Americans?
The Hispanic American Chamber is here to expand and develop the Hispanic business community. We take action in education and the environment when it comes to small business. We don’t live in a perfect world. I wish we did. We work to make sure Hispanic businesses get the proper information to develop and plan small businesses. That is our goal. We want to make sure Hispanic businesses contribute to the community at large. The Hispanic population is growing. I believe by 2023, the Hispanic population in the U.S. will double. And we have Hispanic people from many different cultures coming here. The way they are used to doing business might be different than the way we do it here. Helping those people learn what it takes to start and run a small business in America is why we are here.
What are you working on now that has you excited?
We are currently planning our first banquet we have ever done in September. We haven’t done a banquet since we started the chamber. We are going to recognize local small businesses who have made contributions to the community. They do not have to be members of the chamber. If they are recommended by the board, they will be recognized. We have a lot of leaders who do a lot of things for this community. We are still developing the program, but the banquet is something we are working on right now.
What type of education does the Hispanic American Chamber offer?
We focus on how to set up and run a small business. As I said, the Hispanic community comes from many different cultures around the world. Just like an American and somebody from England both speak English but come from completely different cultures, it is the same with Hispanics. There are Hispanics from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru ... from many different countries. And each country has its own system for setting up a business. They need to learn how the system in the U.S. works, and that is what we provide.
The Puerto Rican community in Killeen-Fort Hood is particularly large because of the military. How does that impact the local business landscape?
I come from Puerto Rico myself. We come from a little island with a completely different way of doing business. Puerto Ricans have done a great job learning this system and taking part in it. Most of us like it when we do learn it, and we make Killeen our home. I came to Killeen 30 years ago and made it my home. So have many others. There are quite a bit of Puerto Rican businesses around town. There are several restaurants. La Garita has been in Killeen forever. We have Tex-Rican in Harker Heights, which is Texan with a Puerto Rican flavor. There is the new bakery, Del Valle’s. There is a grocery store downtown. The Puerto Rican community has done a great job of supporting these businesses.
Now that sectors such as health care and education are expanding locally, do you see more Hispanics not associated with the military settling in the area?
Oh, definitely. It’s happening as we speak. Metroplex has four Puerto Rican doctors, and they are not from the military. I came from the military, but then my sister visited and decided to stay. I have a cousin who did the same thing. That happens a lot. I would say 30 percent of my clients right now are Hispanic. The chamber is a great way for new Hispanic members of the community to network. And as the community grows and becomes more diverse, we will be here to support them.