With its unique situation by the Sonoran border of Mexico, the Sierra Vista community is enriched by the cultural diversity of a strong Hispanic influence.
One organization working to help the community preserve and appreciate this influence is the Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, under the direction of Dan Valle.
Established in 2014 as an affiliate of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a 501©(6) non-profit organization, the Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (SVHCC) seeks to aid and promote its members’ businesses as well as the overall economic well-being of the Arizona-Sonora area. However, Valle recognizes the program as more than just promoting commerce, but fostering cultural education and understanding for people on both sides of the border.
The Herald/Review recently talked with Valle, the three-year international director for the SVHCC, to learn more about the organization and his role in it.
Herald/Review: What is your personal background, and how did that bring you to where you are in with the SVHCC?
Dan Valle: Well, first of all, I started in the Army Reserves; when I was 18 I enlisted, and I made a career out of that. And then I had a parallel career, I also started civil service at age 19 and worked that for 35 years. So I retired from the Army Reserve after 26 years and then the civil service. So, in the civil service, I was a director of morale, welfare, and recreation on Fort Huachuca for, off and on, 17 years, and I was responsible for all of the business activities on post except for the PX and commissary. But everything else — restaurants, golf course, recreation-type activities, sports, child care, everything else. It was when I retired in 2004 I wanted to go into private industry and become CEO of a company.
So, the only way I saw that I could do that was I applied to the Institute for Independent Business out of London, England. I got internationally accredited as a business consultant in about 40 countries around the world and we have about 5000 associates around the world. So I have a network in my back office where we can collaborate with businesses as we work with our small and medium business clients, where we can help them set up a business, help them advance to the next level, help them solve a problem, or we help them turn around. These are the kinds of things I do as a business consultant.
The SVHCC was set up in 2014, but they only had recruited about 20 members because there was no leadership here. But in 2016, I was asked to do it and I agreed at that time--I didn’t have time before that to do it. So I took the position and between August of 2016 to December of 2018, we had gone from 20 members to 150 members, so we did a lot of business development. That included also recruiting members down in Sonora, all the way down to Cananea and Nacozari.
HR: Do you still also do consulting in addition to your work with the SVHCC?
DV: Yes, I still carry about five or six clients. I have to budget my time so I can spend time on their projects and also do my Hispanic Chamber duties, which take a lot of time, because we have to do Mixers and sometimes present classes and things like that. So, it gets pretty busy!
HR: Sounds like you’re in high demand!
DV: Oh yes, the other thing to mention is I also ended up being the CEO of an international logistics and transportation company, and we have a project to create a container terminal in the Port of Guaymas, Sonora--to create a new rail corridor to Guaymas crossing at the new proposed land, commercial land port of entry in Douglas, AZ, and then on into the United States. So that’s another huge project that I’ve got going.
HR: With the SVHCC, you are the international director, correct?
DV: Yes, the reason why it’s international is that even though we’re located in Sierra Vista, I actually cover the border crossing at Naco, AZ and Naco, Sonora; and the other two affiliates of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (of which the SVHCC is also an affiliate) are located on the border of Ambos Nogales — which means “both Nogales” — and then the one in Douglas is of course collocated with Agua Prieta on the other side. But since Naco isn’t a city, it’s just a little township, they don’t have anything there so I was given responsibility for that border crossing in the region that I manage.
HR: What’s the kind of thing you do on a day-to-day basis in this position?
DV: A lot of it is talking to people. I’ll give you a good example: I spoke with two people today, and one of them has an organization that’s a hospitality association, and they were asking for who they might invite to join their association. Based on the membership we have I was able to refer at least four persons to them, and they were really excited about that. So making connections, and networking at mixers, are probably two of the biggest things I do. I had another lady call me today and she wanted to know how she could contact one of the vendors who came in from Sonora, and I was able to provide that information to her to buy some things from that vendor. So it’s a lot of connection and coordination.
And of course, also we’ve got a responsibility for renewing memberships, we have to follow up on that. I also am responsible for recruiting new members, so I spend time on the telephone and going out and meeting new businesses that have just started up or businesses who have been here for a while but might not have heard of us, so I go out and do that as well under the auspices of business development.
HR: What’s the relationship between the SVHCC and the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce? Are they connected at all?
DV: We’re two separate entities, we also have two different missions. I always admire the Sierra Vista Chamber because they’ve been here for so long and done a lot of great things for the city of Sierra Vista and the businesses here. Our mission is slightly different; we are a regional/international chamber; we’re the largest chamber of commerce in Southern Arizona, the second largest in the whole state, and we also have an exclusive partnership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is the largest in the state.
HR: “We” being the SVHCC, or the whole Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce group?
DV: The Tucson Chamber. When members join our chamber, they actually end up joining five chambers: the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the three affiliates, and then of course the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. So, we have extensive coverage throughout the whole state of Arizona and down into Sonora; we have quite a few members down there, and we also have a member in Peru, which is kind of interesting! Yeah, so we are pretty much international, but the mission there distinguished from local chamber is that we provide opportunities to our members outside of Sierra Vista. In this case we can project them outside of Sierra Vista but we can also project businesses that are in Tucson, or in Santa Cruz County, or Graham County, we can project them into Sierra Vista if they’re interested in setting up businesses and we can help them make those connections to do that.
HR: That sounds like there’s a really nice wide network for your members! Who can join? Is it only for Hispanic businesses?
DV: No, not at all! I’m so glad you asked that, that’s a common misconception. The thing is this, there’s a lot of myths about it--you have to be a Hispanic business owner, not true; that you have to speak Spanish, that you have to be doing business with Mexico, that kind of thing, and none of that is true. Anyone can join our chamber who is a business owner, or also an organization, because we have non-profits as members as well. So, it’s not limited just to businesses but also non-profits.
Basically, why we’re the Hispanic Chamber is because we leverage the Hispanic purchasing power in the entire United States, which currently sits at around 1.7 trillion dollars — that’s with a “t!” — that’s how much purchasing power the Hispanic population has. Based on that, if you were to compare that on a world scale to GDPs of countries, we would be sitting at around number ten, and equal with the country of Spain.
HR: That’s impressive, definitely not something we can or should ignore.
DV: Right, and of course that Hispanic population is growing. And with that growth, the purchasing power is going to continue to grow as well.
HR: For interested businesses, how exactly are members helped by joining the SVHCC?
DV: I think the thing is, why they want to join our chamber is if they don’t want to be limited to only operating in Sierra Vista and want to extend their horizons. In some cases, we have had businesses that joined our chamber because they wanted to get products from Mexico and sell the products here. Or, also if they have products here they want to introduce into Mexico and Sonora, we certainly can do that. So there’s lots of reasons.
I’ll give an example: a company from Hermosillo, Sonora — which is the capital of Sonora — it’s a bakery called Suspiros, and they came to us about four years ago to the Tucson Hispanic Chamber and told us that they wanted to expand into Arizona. We got them connected with the right people, and all the import/export items they had to do, and they opened up a store in Tucson, and now a second store in Tucson, and they’re thinking of opening another store in Phoenix. So that’s just an example of the kind of leverage we can provide, and the connections and the knowledge that we can give business owners that want to go either way, whether into Sonora or out of Sonora.
HR: Don’t members also get some sort of certification from that?
DV: Yes, if those who become members of our chamber want to attract the Hispanic market, not only here in the U.S. but in Sierra Vista more specifically the people from Sonora, we can train that business how they can actually serve that clientele. Once we do that, which would include — I’ll give an example. We had a hotel that did not have any Spanish-speaking staff, and they were getting visitors from Sonora but not as many as they could have gotten. They said, “we know why, it’s because we don’t speak Spanish.” So I advised them that next time they hired somebody at the front desk, they should probably hire someone who is bilingual, and once they did that and we certified them and we put our sticker on their door that says “Se Habla Español,” now they have gotten more people; and because we’ve also done some lectures there, they’re getting more people coming in from Sonora who feel very comfortable and very happy with that hotel. So that’s the kind of thing we can also apply to businesses here in Sierra Vista, because a lot of the people I’ve talked to down in Sonora have come here and tried to go off the beaten track, other than Walmart and Ross and the mall, and have said, “I went into the store and no one spoke Spanish, so I left.” So you have to make them feel welcome, and by having at least someone who speaks their language, that helps a lot in keeping them. And I’ll tell you that the people from Mexico are very loyal customers. Once you have them, they continue to come back and bring relatives, they bring their friends, so that’s a good thing.
HR: You’ve mentioned a few times about your “Mixers,” so what exactly are those? Is that the chamber’s main way to get involved with the community?
DV: Yes, that’s our monthly major event, and the invitation goes out to all of our members, of course, but also to their guests and friends. Basically it’s open to the public, and we have a small fee for non-members and it’s free to the members. But it consists of basically providing information to them. We give them dinner that’s sponsored by one of our members — for example, Texas Roadhouse, or in the case of our Mixer for June it’s going to be Dickey’s Barbecue — and we’ve got live entertainers coming in from Douglas — this month a guitarist who is very good — and we have a couple of people give an address. This time, for example, I’m going to talk about Flag Day, as well as the 244th birthday of the US Army, which is occurring this month, and also Juenteenth; we have council member Gwen Calhoun from the City of Sierra Vista who is going to talk about Juenteenth. And of course, underlying and underpinning all of this is the networking that occurs between the members and the guests, and also the connections that are being made. We have a presentation from a new member in Cananea, Sonora, and they’re going to come and talk about their new call center they just opened, and we’re very excited to hear about that.
HR: Hearing about your events and purposes, I like how it’s more than just the commerce, but it’s about cultural understanding and exchange. That seems like it would be a really rewarding position for you to be in. Is there any specific event or project you’ve worked on that you feel has had a big impact in that way?
DV: Probably the biggest has been SonoraFest, which has been running for three years now. It started in 2017 in Bisbee, and then we presented it in 2018 and 2019 at the Mall at Sierra Vista. This year it was in April, and we’re scheduled to have it on 6th and 7th of June next year. But that’s probably the biggest success we’ve had. It started in Bisbee in collaboration and partnership between the City of Bisbee, the Secretary of Economy for the state of Sonora, the Hispanic Chamber, and the Mexican Council in Douglas. They wanted to do it again, but then you’ll recall that the city hall burned down in Bisbee and there were a lot of setbacks in Bisbee, and I asked the mayor if they were going to do it again in 2018, and if not if we could bring it to Sierra Vista, and he said ,“By all means!” Now it’s a partnership between the Tucson/Sierra Vista Hispanic Chamber, the Secretary of Economy for Sonora, the City of Sierra Vista, and the Mexican Consulate in Douglas. Once we did it in 2018, the Secretary of Economy from Sonora liked it so much, he says, “You guys really raised the bar, let’s do it again!” So it’s kind of stayed here now, but we keep improving it every year. The big draws for that are the Sonoran vendors that come out, and we had close to 70 members this year, so it’s a big increase from in 2018 we had 55. And the entertainment was another level: we had mariachis, we had folkloric dancers, but we also had a soprano and opera singer who came in, and a guitarist who plays like Carlos Santana — really cool — and the entertainment has just been really excellent. And it was especially significant this year.
HR: About how many people do you think came to it?
DV: We had in Bisbee about 3,500 in 2017. In 2018 we brought in close to 7,000, and this year we had probably between 6,500 and 7,000. Really, really the mall was packed, it was full of people for the two days! And our entertainment was continuous from the time the festival opened to the time it closed.
HR: What is your purpose in SonoraFest, why go through all the trouble of curating such a large event?
DV: It’s more than just being good for business for Sonora and businesses in the mall. One of the reasons why Mayor Rick Mueller was keen on us bringing SonoraFest to Sierra Vista was to allow the military and Department of Defense civilian and contractor personnel to see and buy Sonoran products plus learn about the Sonora/Mexican culture, as these people cannot cross the border into Mexico for security reasons. Also, there are people who will simply not cross into Mexico based on negative press reports. So once a year we have the privilege of bringing Sonora to Arizona in Sierra Vista!
HR: It sounds like you all have done a lot of good cultural and business exposure for people on both sides of the border! What would you say to people who don’t own a business or organization, but want to be involved somehow?
DV: We have a special category we created called Friends of the Hispanic Chamber, and a person for $100 a year can come to all of our Mixers for free, and we created this category because a lot of business owners were bringing their spouses, and they had to pay because they were non-members. So I said, “Why don’t we create a new category for them?” And they got to come in and don’t have to pay at the door, it’s all covered, and we’ve had people other than spouses who just want to support the Hispanic Chamber; they like what we’re doing, they like coming in and networking and everything else. It’s just really taken off.
HR: What about your casual shopper, who would like to help support the businesses involved? Is there somewhere they could find a directory or list of chamber members?
DV: Sure, we have our website, tucsonhispanicchamber.org, and we have a very extensive directory. When you go into the directory, it’s categorized by many different areas. For example, you can do a keyword search, a city or area search, you can search by name, you can search by type of business, so we have a lot of options to search there that can provide you as a customer whatever you want to know. You have dentists in there, you have doctors, you have lawyers, you have grocery stores, banks, all of that; it’s all categorized and very easy to find what you’re looking for.
HR: Looking forward, what do you see as some of the future goals or paths of the SVHCC?
DV: For this particular one in Sierra Vista, I think my goal and projection is we want to continue to grow and continue to provide the services we’re doing. We have now expanded into Graham County, and in fact, we’ve got the Graham County Chamber of Commerce as well as the Tombstone Chamber of Commerce who joined our chamber. We’ve got some trade memberships. Because you see, we do not and should not see other chambers as competition. We should see them as a way that we can complement each other. We can help each other by doing that, because they don’t have the international connections that we have, and we have such a reach of resources and things like that, that we like to work with them. In the case of the Graham County Chamber of Commerce, they connected with us because they would like us to promote Safford and all the tourist things up there that if you never leave Sierra Vista you’ll never find out about. But if we connect with them and we set up a tour where people can go to Safford and they have a special tour they want to do about what’s available up there, then we start expanding their horizons as well and more people go from here to there, and vice versa: we might have people form there who would never have come to Sierra Vista, so it works both ways, you see.
HR: Yes, it really is an advantage as more people join. When you partner with more organizations and municipalities, it’s just better all around, especially as this is such a diverse area.
DV: Yes! And it works as an economic development, because we get into economic development as well, the Chamber of Commerce does that by helping businesses grow. They see the value of that, and we can do basically economic or business development for them as well.
HR: What about you personally, what do you think your future holds?
DV: You know, I’m meant to have that big project (with the logistics company), so the only thing that would stop me from continuing with the SVHCC would be if that project were to get funded and take off. But other than that, I do want to continue to serve the SVHCC and also the clients that I have business-wise, and just continue to do what I’m doing for a few more years!
HR: Any other final takeaways you’d like the Sierra Vista community to have?
DV: Being a business consultant, I would share that pretty soon we may be offering through the Hispanic Chamber a free course that would be open to everyone and it’s basically, “how is your business doing?” So business owners could come in and I could guide them through the process of making an assessment of their business to see how well they’re doing. That would be nice, don’t you think?