Richfield Chamber looks to Latinos

David Guzman, right, serves customer Alejandro Hernandez at Cinco de Mayo Mercado on East 66th Street in Richfield. the Mexican-owned business is part of a Latino community that makes up nearly 20 percent of Richfield's population. (Sun staff photo by Andrew Wig)

David Guzman, right, serves customer Alejandro Hernandez at Cinco de Mayo Mercado on East 66th Street in Richfield. the Mexican-owned business is part of a Latino community that makes up nearly 20 percent of Richfield’s population. (Sun staff photo by Andrew Wig)

The language barrier is only one obstacle to overcome as the Richfield establishment reaches out to the city’s Latino community.

In the case of the Richfield Chamber of Commerce, merely translating its promotional literature is not enough; the organization must address deeper differences, says the newest member of the Chamber’s board of directors.

Minneapolis entrepreneur Pablo Muríllo was announced earlier this month as the replacement for Ben Backus, a chiropractor who left the Chamber for work in Minneapolis, according to Gordy Ecklund, the Chamber’s board president.

The Chamber has declared its dedication to reaching a demographic that until now has not been associated with the Chamber. Chamber President Angie Schaefbauer does not know of any Latino members in her organization.

To reach the group that makes up nearly 20 percent of the city, the Chamber must be careful in making its appeals to Latinos, Muríllo said. In particular, he added, the Chamber must avoid themes such as the idea of “assistance.”

“Generally speaking, we don’t take pride in being part of a welfare system,” Muríllo said.

In focusing on business in the Latino community, Muríllo plans to dive into another realm: the family. “Take a close look at the family structure first,” he said. “That’s always been my motto from day one.”

He says his upbringing put him in position for success, but knows not everyone can be so lucky. “I understand it’s not so easy for everyone,” Muríllo sympathized.

There are parents who want to be more involved in their children’s education, but don’t have the time, according to Muríllo. “Many good-willed parents are not able to do what they need to do for these kids,” he said.

What the organization should key on, the new board member suggests, is “paying attention to how we can help mothers.” In a nascent plan, Muríllo said he hopes to find volunteers in Richfield willing to fill in for mothers who are often absent, “because some are working two or three shifts back-to-back.”

The volunteers, whom Muríllo hopes to draw from Richfield’s pool of retirees, would attend school to “represent the interests of the child in lieu of the mom,” said Muríllo, who has not yet taken his proposal to the school district.

While the way to the Latino community’s heart, in Muríllo’s view, goes through its matriarchs, the way to strengthen the core of Richfield’s business community is through the schools.

“Children who get good educations become good employees and employers,” Muríllo asserted.

But he sees a disturbing trend.

“About 50 to 60 percent of Latino students are graduating high school,” Muríllo noted, “and that’s devastating.”

Latinos comprise nearly a fifth of Richfield’s — and 5 percent of the state’s — population, “yet there really doesn’t seem to be a vehicle to include everybody,” Muríllo said, observing that Latinos are still separated from the mainstream population.

“Not many Latinos are being integrated into the system, because typically it just hasn’t happened,” he said.

 

New emphasis for Chamber

Now, concerns like those of Murillo’s are receiving some recognition in Richfield. Reaching out to Latinos became a priority at the Chamber’s board of directors retreat late last year as they discussed the organization’s direction, said Schaefbauer. But earlier, Chamber members had approached Schaefbauer, who became Chamber president last summer, to point out the organization’s homogenous nature.

“I found that to be intriguing,” she said.

Board President Ecklund made the same observation: “That was a segment we were missing.”

And it would not suffice as the status quo. “We want the Chamber to be inclusive of all,” Schaefbauer said.

According to her, the addition of Muríllo has quickly begun working. “I’m already getting inquiries from the Latino community,” she said.

In the Chamber’s new directive, Muríllo sees an encouraging change. “It is kind of refreshing that now Hispanics are not looked upon as an expense or a burden, but rather an asset,” he said.

Aside from social goals, it makes simple business sense to embrace such a large demographic, suggested Val Vargas, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Minnesota. She also responding to the Richfield Chamber’s new emphasis with optimism. If an organization is going go to foucs one particular group, Vargas said, “it might be the largest group to focus on.”

When asked about the Chamber’s new acknowledgement of the Latino population, Vargas had two words:

“I’m smiling.”

She has known Muríllo for about 15 years, and was the one who suggested Muríllo. After Vargas made the connection, “(Muríllo) answered the phone immediately and we just hit it off,” Schaefbauer said.

International flavor

Muríllo, who wouldn’t give his age but said he’s “closer to 60 than I am to 50,” believes 30 years of international business experience puts him in a unique position to help a relatively diverse Richfield population, which is 18 percent Latino, 9 percent black and 6 percent Asian, according to the 2010 US Census.

He was born in Bolivia and moved to Minnesota in the ‘70s when he received a scholarship from the University of Minnesota. After his studies, Muríllo became a design-build architect, working out of offices across the globe providing design, building and real estate services.

His projects, which included working on palaces in Saudi Arabia, brought him to London, Thailand and Mexico City, among other far-flung locales.

It is this experience in working with different cultures that Muríllo cites when he explains his ability to reach out to Richfield’s diverse population.

“When you do business internationally you have two choices: Either you’re going to become really different or you’re going to blend in,” he said. “I really enjoy the reciprocity.”

In Richfield itself, he sees a city that is not recognized for its offerings. “A lot of people don’t know exactly what Richfield has to offer, and it’s a shame,” Muríllo said.

Muríllo’s work in Richfield is not extensive. He said he did, however, help gain approval in the ‘90s for the new location of Richfield Mitsubishi, which was moving from its old lot, at the current site of the Shops at Lyndale, to a new spot in Bloomington.

Muríllo, a former Edina resident, has been involved with the Edina Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Latino Caucus and the Urban Coalition of Minneapolis. He said he is a founding member of the state’s original Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

 

Contact Andrew Wig at andrew.wig@ecm-inc.com

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