NW Ohio Hispanic Chamber meets at 5/3 Bank HQ
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent
Small businesses remain the key to the economic success of Northwest Ohio, Fifth Third Bank’s regional president told a group of Latino business leaders on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014.
About 20 members of the Northwest Ohio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce hobnobbed with the bank’s top brass on the 21st floor of Fifth Third Center in downtown Toledo during the chamber’s monthly meeting. Fifth Third bank hosted the monthly gathering.
“It’s more than just networking. They’re really reaching out to the Latino community and they see the Hispanic chamber as the vehicle to do that,” said Roberto Torres, NOHCC executive director.
When the regional and national economy suffered its worst downturn since the Great Depression in 2008, banks were accused of pulling back on loaning money. But Fifth Third officials locally sought to use “alternative lending programs” to keep smaller employers and businesses afloat, according to Robert W. LaClair—President and CEO of Fifth Third Bank (Northwestern Ohio)—who noted Northwest Ohio is a much different climate than it was when he graduated from Libbey High School in 1982.
“There were giant companies who created lots of jobs and supported this community. There were jobs everywhere that were created by these giant conglomerates,” he said. “Go forward 30 years and it’s a very different climate today. For us to be successful, we’ve got to have thriving small businesses. That’s where the jobs are going to come from. That’s now our mission.”
The Northwest Ohio region led all 5/3 Bank regions two of the past three years in alternative lending, LaClair told the gathering, calling it a “community banking model.”
LaClair related a story where he had front row seats at a comedy show in New York City during the recent recession. The comedian asked what he did for a living and when he responded that he was in banking, the crowd booed him—mainly because of the public perception that big banks were responsible for the recession.
“We try to be good stewards of the community and the general sentiment in banking is that we’re not good people,” he noted. “That was a real eye-opener for me that we needed to take what we were doing on the community and increase our efforts in multiples. We have great people working for us and we’re doing great things in the community but we need people to see that.”
The NOHCC executive director called face-to-face meetings with large employers and financial institutions can only help chamber members to grow. The Hispanic chamber now numbers some 73 member businesses.
“It’s huge. Anytime you’re talking about lending opportunities, and how some of our smaller businesses can avail themselves of those lending opportunities—even midsize businesses are looking at ways to fund expansion and growth,” said Torres. “The SBA is a great tool for projects like that.”
“Not only does it help us to get to know the small business owners, it also gets us identified in the community,” said Micah Glenn, vice president and alternative lending specialist, Fifth Third Bank. “It works really well on two fronts. Yeah, we want to get to know the small businessperson, but we want the community to know me, to know us.”
Glenn told the group he tries to identify any kind of government-backed lending program on their behalf—not just SBA, but USDA, as well as local and state funding sources to try to find the best fit for them.
“You don’t get to the numbers unless you get to the customer. It is a face-to-face business. Before you can ever evaluate the business itself, you have to get to know the person—get an understanding of what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do, their belief about their company, their enthusiasm about their company. Where are they trying to take it? How do they affect the community? They don’t just want to be in business; they want to affect some kind of legacy within the community.”
The NOHCC executive director stated there is a bigger business reason for 5/3 Bank and others to link with the Hispanic chamber of commerce beyond lending opportunities.
“The opportunity for Latino employment in the banking industry goes beyond just being clerks. What’s happening with these corporate institutions is they’re looking at the Latino clientele as a growing clientele,” said Torres. “It’s a growing base and they want to reach out to it. If they do, they need to look like it. As they look at their boardrooms, you’re going to see more and more people who look like us. They have to begin now.”
Torres told the group about the Great Lakes Business Connection, an event linking small employers seeking to do business with larger companies. The event will be held Oct. 8 at the Radisson next to the University of Toledo Medical Center. The networking event last year was held in Cleveland.
“We’re expecting anywhere from 250 to 400 businesses from the area to attend that,” said Torres. “The biggest thing about this event is it’s a matchmaker’s event. If you’re a small business looking to do business with a corporation like 5/3 Bank or Owens Corning or Jeep, that’s the event to go to.”
Kent State University officials will assist small businesses to link with representatives from bigger companies from across the Midwest at the event. The Hispanic chamber has partnered with the Urban League of Cleveland and other sponsors to host the event.