Why You Need to Know Him: Because he’s leading the way for Hispanic businesses locally and across the country to change the narrative on their workforce and economic contributions.
Javier Palomarez may not have looked like the future president and CEO of a major national organization as a kid. In fact, he was a high school dropout in Edinburg, Texas, from an English-as-a-second-language home and the youngest of 10 children born to migrant farm workers. And yet he began to change his fate when he went to night school to get his GED and, as he puts it, “met a beautiful girl” (his now-wife, Rebecca).
He went on to get his degree from the now-shuttered University of Texas–Pan American, thanks in part to a student achievement award he won through The Wall Street Journal in 1986. “I still have that page of The Wall Street Journal, actually,” he says. “It says at the top, ‘Take a close look at these little names,’ and at the bottom it says, ‘Because one day they’ll be big names in the world of business’ … I started realizing there’s a hell of a lot to be done.”
Today, after a 20-year career in the corporate sector, Palomarez—who lives in Flower Mound—serves as president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, where his mission is to advocate for the more than 4.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute over $668 billion to the American economy each year. Through a network of more than 200 local chambers and business associations across the country, the USHCC partners with more than 270 major American corporations to promote small businesses and diverse suppliers. “Too long our community has been defined as needy, as disenfranchised, as incapable of growth,” he says. “We knew better.”
According to a 2015 report by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, Hispanic small businesses have grown 47 percent between 2007 and 2012, while small-business numbers overall stalled. “It’s critically important that America begins to recognize the importance of this growing economic behemoth called the Hispanic market.”
It’s something that executives at Toyota know well. When the team announced it would relocate the company’s headquarters to Plano, Toyota set a goal: 20 percent of the dollars spent building the new facility would be spent with minority- and women-owned businesses. They needed Palomarez’s—and the Chamber’s—help to identify those companies. The end result was 32 percent (half of which were Hispanic-owned businesses). “The outcome really speaks volumes in terms of how meaningful that relationship has been to us,” says Chris Nielsen, a senior vice president at Toyota. “For us, that’s such a great win-win story, where the Chamber is able to promote business opportunities for its members and it aligns with Toyota’s objectives.” As an additional nod to the partnership, Toyota is acting as corporate sponsor for the USHCC’s national convention in October in Dallas.
Palomarez runs the organization like a business, in that he does not accept funding from a government agency. In that regard, it allows him to be open about his political opinions and how they impact his mission. Early on, Palomarez was critical of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate—but his criticism was strictly about policy.
Fast-forward to Trump’s presidency, and Palomarez got a surprising call: He was asked to serve as an advisor on the President’s national diversity coalition. Palomarez has already taken Hispanic business owners to meet with President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Ivanka Trump. “Amazingly, the four women who were part of my contingency—three of them were immigrants—began their conversations with ‘Mr. President, it’s an honor to meet you.’”
It’s all part Palomarez’ mission. “If you look at our title and you focus on the word ‘Hispanic,’ you’re missing the point,” he says. “The word to focus on is ‘commerce.’ Every service we provide goes to benefit the American economy.”