Immigration bills have floated back and forth in this year’s state Legislative session, and new Gov. Nathan Deal is a known supporter of immigration reform.
But the state should beware, warns Tisha Tallman, president and CEO of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. That’s because if a restrictive bill passes, the state can expect to see economic reprisals.
Tallman was guest speaker at Thursday’s meeting of the Marietta Kiwanis Club. She scrupulously avoided immigration-related topics during her speech, but fielded a couple afterward. Member Frank Bradford, a former Republican member of the state Legislature, asked if her group supported “realistic immigration reform,” which he then defined as “meaning we can’t just send them all back.”
Replied Tallman, “We’re of the position that immigration is a federal issue. We’ve come out against the Arizona-type legislation that has now passed both chambers of the Georgia Legislature and now is in reconciliation. We’ve also opposed some of the higher-education legislation.
“We’ve been in conversations with various organizations that work with us that were looking to have conventions here in Atlanta. And we do know that Arizona lost tens of millions of dollars in conventions and meetings as a result of their legislation. There are conversations that we’ve had with some of those conventions, and I know that the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau is monitoring some of the legislation, because there will be a loss of some of that.”
Ms. Tallman is the former Southeast Regional Counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is one of the best-known groups resisting tougher enforcement of our immigration laws. While working as MALDEF’s lawyer she was interviewed numerous times by such media outlets as The Washington Post, The New York Times, Time magazine, National Public Radio and the BBC World Service.
Prior to that, she was assistant attorney general for the State of Minnesota under Attorney General Hubert “Skip” Humphrey III. She also was an adjunct law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School. She also attended the controversial United Nations Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa back in 2001.
Latest figures from the Census Bureau show Georgia had a 78 percent increase in Hispanic-owned businesses in recent years, she said.
“We grew at almost double the national rate. From 2002 to 2007 total revenues to Hispanic-owned businesses went from $4.2 billion to $6 billion. So that puts a lot of added pressure on us to ensure that we have the resources to facilitate and nurture that business growth.”
Metro Atlanta is the tenth-largest Hispanic market in the country and the fourth-fastest growing Hispanic market in the country, she said.
“And Cobb is a fast-growing, highly populated county for our community,” she added.
The Hispanic Chamber, like any other chamber of commerce, provides domestic and international programming and services and serves as a voice and an advocate on legislative initiatives impacting our member businesses at the local, state and federal levels.
Its mission is “to promote and support the domestic and international economic development of Hispanic businesses and individuals, and to serve as a link between non-Hispanic entities and the Hispanic market.”
The Hispanic Chamber was founded in 1984 as the Atlanta Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“We were referred to back then as ‘an emerging community,’ but I think we can definitely say that we have emerged. And the infrastructure was built prior to this large surge in the (Hispanic) population.”
She attributes some of the growth in the metro area’s Hispanic population to the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, which caused a huge surge in construction job.
In its 25 years the Hispanic Chamber has grown into one of the largest groups of its kind in the country with 1,300 members, including 850 companies.
In 2001 it expanded to include a 501(c) 3 as a small-business incubator, which has served thousands of people since then interested in starting a business. The Chamber’s headquarters are on West Paces Ferry Road in Atlanta.
“We have a disproportionate number of Hispanic-owned companies that are headquartered in Atlanta that do business in other states, so the Chamber puts them in a position to share their expertise with smaller businesses,” she said. “And there are many small ones able to leverage the expertise of our larger businesses through the mentorship and the programming and services we provide.”
Vision IT, one of the largest Hispanic-owned internet technology companies in the country, which is headquartered in Detroit, now has its regional office in the Atlanta Chamber’s office, she said.
People often don’t realize what a variety of types of businesses are owned by Hispanics, she said.
“I think another thing that people often don’t realize is that our Hispanic-owned businesses represent a wide spectrum of industries,” she said. “Traditionally, we had a disproportionate number of construction companies, but now we’ve seen a real shift. Now we have IT firms, construction firms, retail, service and increasingly you see the growth across the board of industries. And across the board in industries and out of this great recession and into the new economy I think we’re going to see a lot more movement and we try to service them.”
Bill Kinney is associate editor of the Marietta Daily Journal