South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 9, 2004

S. Florida Puerto Rican group widens view, adds Hispanic to name

By Jennifer Heit
Special Correspondent

After realizing how many people of Puerto Rican descent were doing business in Broward County, Frank Nieves decided in 2000 that the area called for its own cultural chamber of commerce.

Nieves, who belonged to the Miami-Dade County-based South Florida Puerto Rican Chamber, incorporated and started the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Broward County. "There was a need at that time for a chamber to work with the businesses up here [in Broward] that were not being adequately served," said Nieves, chamber president. "There [are] a lot of differences between the way business is conducted in [Miami-Dade] and Broward."

Four years later, the Miramar-based chamber carries on with its same mission -- but with a new, slightly altered name: the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Broward County. It has members mostly from south Broward, but also is drawing people from the rest of the county as well as Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The group's nine-member board of directors voted unanimously to go with the change, and the name was formally adopted during a business card exchange in March.

With the new name, the chamber wanted to announce something that has always been the case: that it encompasses Hispanics and business people of all nationalities. And with a membership drive under way, the time was ripe, Nieves said.

"The main reason, more than anything else, is that people keep asking, `Is this only for Puerto Ricans?'" Nieves said. "We thought it would be best to let people from the get-go know it is an all-inclusive chamber."

The chamber has about 300 members, most of whom are Puerto Rican. But of that total, about 100 have joined since the change and are a mix of Hispanics and non-Hispanics, he said.

Census figures from 2000 show that 50,000 people of Puerto Rican descent live in Broward, according to the chamber. And there are three Hispanic chambers operating in Broward.

The Puerto Rican/Hispanic chamber's goal is to recruit 700 more members to reach a 1,000 head count by year's end. As an incentive, the chamber has lowered annual membership fees from $250 to $60, Nieves said.

Some members join to take part in community-based programs such as a college scholarship award fund, said Harry Garcia, a commercial real estate owner who recently became a board member after about two years with the chamber.

Recently, the chamber has partnered, but not merged, with the Florida State Hispanic Chamber. This has opened up benefit programs for the smaller chamber, such as better health insurance rates.

"The whole idea is to keep bringing different people to the chamber so chances to do business increase," Nieves said.

"We were limiting ourselves by just including the name `Puerto Rican' because we are part of this community as a whole," Garcia said. "I want ... everyone to become members of our group."

Anyone interested in joining can visit, or call the chamber office at 954-983-2273.

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