Well-Suited to Group Dynamics

Of Business Organizations

In a banquet room overlooking the Fairfax County skyline, a Greater Washington Ibero Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting comes to order. The membership, a group of navy-, black- and gray-suited Latino businessmen and women, settle into seats at the uber-formal Tower Club for a meal of herbed salmon, iced tea and fruit tarts.

Neat blue folders are placed in the chairs. Inside, a piece of off-white bond paper reads: "Dear Friend, the Greater Washington Ibero Chamber of Commerce, as the largest Hispanic business organization in the metro Washington, DC area, invites you to join our network of business owners, corporations, government and non-profit organizations. . . ."

After a PowerPoint presentation and additional remarks in English, the meeting concludes with the suits swapping business cards.

Sitting at the head table was Elmer Arias, president of the D.C. area Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce. The upstart chamber founded a few years ago does business a little differently than the 28-year-old Ibero Chamber.

A recent Dia de la Madres meeting held by the Salvadoran American Chamber to honor Latina businesswomen and mothers was held at a Hispanic restaurant in Northern Virginia. The presentations were made in Spanish. Networking and mingling between the small-business owners also was done in Spanish.

The Ibero chamber's 200 members are mostly government contractors or businesses like law firms that do work related to that sector, and thus the group is focused on contracting issues. The Salvadoran chamber's 125 members are mostly restaurateurs, grocers and construction companies, so its programs are designed to help small businesses survive. One program, for example, was to help restaurant owners understand liquor laws.

"It is very important for the Salvadoran to have a group that represents them," Arias said. "Our people want to stay here and want to develop."

Elmer Arias, Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce president.