SIERRA VISTA — The Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce just got a new president, and she has some big ideas for southern Cochise County.
Lydia Aranda, former chief development officer of the chamber and its affiliates in Douglas, Nogales, and Sierra Vista, accepted the interim leadership role last week after former president and CEO Lea Márquez-Peterson stepped down in order to run for political office.
The Tucson native, who has had extensive experience working with businesses and nonprofit organizations in government, corporate and small-business capacities, said the interim presidency was a “fun opportunity.”
“I’m really excited about it — I feel like in some ways, many of the experiences (I’ve had) have come full circle,” she said.
Aranda’s involvement with southern Arizona’s Hispanic chambers first began 15 years ago, when she worked as the governor’s small business advocate under former Arizona chief executive Janet Napolitano.
“It was wonderful to be right at the center of everything entrepreneurial, and it allowed me to work very closely not only with Hispanic chambers, but with all chambers and other small business associations,” she said.
Dan Valle, international director for the Sierra Vista Chamber, said Aranda was a clear choice for the role, in part because of her “tremendous background.”
“The other thing is, she is the type of person who is very team-oriented and capable. She has some big ideas, and she has passed those on to us,” he said. “I’m totally impressed with her. Even before she became the interim president, we had already started some initiatives, and it’s really a pleasure and a joy to work with Lydia.”
Aranda takes on an interesting responsibility: The president of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber also oversees its affiliates in Nogales, Douglas and Sierra Vista — four very distinct parts of Southern Arizona.
“It does come with its challenges, in that each of the communities and each of the chamber organizations on their own have a very unique feel,” she said. “For example, in Sierra Vista, and in neighboring Huachuca, they are so full of not only vibrant business opportunities, but truly the presence of the military right there offers a very unique benefit. … It puts a different spin on continued workforce training and those kinds of opportunities.”
Among the projects that Aranda said she hopes to continue and expand in the Cochise County area is bringing more “formalized” education and training opportunities to local businesses, as well as growing the relatively young SonoraFest, a cross-border festival that brings businesses from Sonora, Mexico, to Arizona.
“What was noticeable to me over the summer, when that was just starting, was that many community leaders (in other counties) were looking at that and saying, ‘That’s a great model,’” she said. “That’s one really big initiative — not only the SonoraFest proper, but the opportunities around that, for how to establish some learning series and workshops that build up towards that event, but follow up after within different industries.”
Aranda would also like to help carry out future initiatives that “play off of” the Cochise County region’s rich history, she said.
“It’s like the history we’ve seen take place with certain groups like UNESCO, (such as) the Tucson metropolitan area formally becoming a recognized gastro hub cultural center,” she said. “Things like those kinds of designations allow us to think even more about what we can do to leverage the uniqueness of Sierra Vista, Bisbee and the neighboring areas.”
Valle said he looks forward to continuing to work with Aranda on projects to support businesses in Sierra Vista, as well as to strengthen partnerships between Sonora and Cochise County.
“We get a lot of people from Cananea here in Sierra Vista,” he said. “They come here and they spend a lot of money … and they are very, very important to this economy. “That’s something that as a Hispanic chamber here, that we have put on our radar, to continue to target and enhance that.”
Although Aranda is not sure exactly how long she will be in her interim role, she hopes to do as much as she can, she said.
“One of the real joys about being a part of this team, in any capacity, is that it is a team that is always moving and thinking. We don’t sit still.”