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A conversation with Abe Rodriguez

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, July 8, 2012, at 7:24 a.m.

Connections are important to Abe Rodriguez, the new executive director at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Rodriguez, 41, wants to connect members with one another and with other Wichita businesses.

“I’ve always wanted and have felt a yearning to be better connected with the Hispanic community,” he said. “It’s a sector that needs more and more attention and involvement.”

Through the process, Chamber members will meet other professionals.

Ultimately, they will continue to grow their business.

Rodriguez replaces Abel Perez, who retired at the end of 2011.

In the month since he’s held the position, Rodriguez has been meeting with members to get their feedback.

He comes to the Chamber from the banking industry. Working at Commerce Bank, Rodriguez said he learned the importance of engaging with the community.

Although new to the job, he has definite ideas about what he would like to accomplish.

Rodriguez was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and came to Wichita at age 5.

He attended Park Elementary School, one of the few Wichita elementary schools at the time that offered bilingual education.

The school is directly across the street from Rodriguez’s office at the Chamber.

He holds a business degree from Baker University and a master’s in business administration from Friends University.

The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce began in 2002 and has about 300 members.

Rodriguez loves to talk and socialize, he said. He and his wife, Cassie, love the outdoors. When not working, they like to run and cycle.

You want to bring members and business together. What needs to be done?

“(There’s a need) to get better connected in maybe working with finance companies or estate planning, having connections with attorneys. There’s not a lot of Hispanic or Hispanic-speaking attorneys … I’m hoping to try to get people better connected, not just with people … who speak Spanish, but maybe with people who can open the door or mentor.”

You want to help members to get acquainted with one another, help grow their businesses and to socially get connected with nonprofit organizations, city parks, art museums and ballparks. What else?

We want to try to continue to facilitate or disseminate information so Hispanics feel comfortable coming here to the Chamber and telling us the things we want or things we need. It starts with (gaining) their trust, listening to what they want and then following through.

How does the Hispanic Chamber compare with the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce?

It’s a very similar format to the Metro Chamber. We have a smaller base. It’s a younger organization. … At the end of the day, we’re a pro-business organization.

Political involvement is one of your goals. You mentioned that the recent Supreme Court decision on Arizona’s immigration law is a major issue. So is Obama’s recent policy change that exempts young illegal immigrants from deportation if they meet certain requirements.

It’s crucial that our businesses are provided with a higher, more educated, more technical-trained work force. These people are also going to be contributing. If they’re earning more, they’re going to be spending more. (That helps the economy.) As the president had mentioned, this is not a map to citizenship. It’s not amnesty. … They came here because of no fault of their own. This is the only country they’ve known. They have the allegiance here. They may have even served in the military. … If we have better trained, better educated immigrants, they’re going to be able to contribute to our community and our economy.

What’s the best business advice you ever had?

I think at the end of the day, it’s building relationships. It takes one-on-one building a relationship with one person and building a relationship with another.

What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

English is really my second language. All my thinking, all my thought process is always in Spanish. Even when I dream, it’s always in Spanish. (But) I’m trying to make sure I deliver (thoughts) in English.

Contact Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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