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Nonprofit and Maverick Innovation Center team up to benefit students and businesses

The Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce isn’t only about ethnicity — the organization is about building community, and helping first-generation and minority companies create opportunities and navigate the business world.

The Latino chamber is also focused on helping people who may be new to the world of commerce. The chamber and its network can help these businesses establish themselves among sometimes larger, or longer-established, entities. In this way, the Latino chamber provides the same service to local businesses that CMU provides for first-generation and minority college students. With the chamber now located at CMU both organizations plan to use this common mission to help CMU students and local, minority-owned businesses.  

“We exist as an organization because for many Latinx business owners, they may be first- or second-generation owner/operators and we want to provide them networking, cultural connection opportunities and business connections that make commerce more accessible,” said Latino Chamber Board Member Sonia Gutierrez, who helped coordinate the organizations relocation to CMU. “This is especially important when they may be competing with those who may have been in business for multiple generations.”

The Latino chamber believes so much in its mission of supporting new comers that the organization sees a major connection with what CMU does in its robust programming designed to support minority students. The university campus serves a large student body of minority students, many of whom are Latinx. Many Latino and Latina students are also first-generation college students. Latino Chamber President Jorge Pantoja, like Gutierrez, also believes that it’s the correlation between the likelihood of Latinx-heritage business owners and students having first-generation status that brings power to the partnership.

“Whether you are relatively new to the country, or new to college, the structural challenges are similar,” said Pantoja. “Statistically, Latinx students and or business owners are more likely to have first-generation status than the rest of the population. This is where we see a special role for the Latino chamber to serve students while located at CMU.”

With the Latino chamber locating its office within the Maverick Innovation Center, the chamber staff plans to establish mentoring, internship services, job placement and cultural heritage education efforts.

“Mesa County has a large Latinx population, and CMU serves a large student cohort of Latinx students,” said Maverick Innovation Center Director Tom Benton. “This means we can be a bridge between the Latino business community and the CMU Latinx student community to strengthen opportunities for both.”

The Latino chamber and CMU leaders celebrated the grand opening of the on-campus office location on Friday, March 12, in the Maverick Innovation Center. The event included CMU President Tim Foster who believes the new partnership reflects CMU’s 20 years of effort to better serve traditionally underserved student populations.

“In 2020, CMU had the largest single donor donation in the history of the university because of our commitment to serving first-generation and minority student populations,” said Foster. “We are not stopping now, and these kinds of innovative partnerships show that the more resources we acquire the more investments we make in our services. These investments provide meaningful returns for the benefit of these amazing and talented young people.”

Foster referenced a previous donation of $1 million dollars by CMU supporter and current trustee Ron Davis. Davis’ gift created the Davis School of Business and was partly predicated on CMU’s long-standing efforts to support minority students.

For more information about how to support the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce and their goals of serving first-generation and minority students at CMU contact the CMU Foundation.


Written by David Ludlam