A group of immigrants – men and women who share dreams of doing business in America or growing their business in the land of opportunity – meets every week in El Paso to learn about American culture, civics and how to do business here.
Miguel Gomez recently became chairman of the two-year-old organization called La Red, which means “the network” in English. It meets at Paco Wong’s Westside restaurant and at the El Paso Club in Downtown on alternate Thursdays.
The group’s members are mostly Mexican business leaders who have moved from Juárez to El Paso, many recently to escape the violence across the border.
A group of just eight friends started La Red, meeting informally at a coffee shop. Now the organization has 80 active members and has quickly gained business influence and political traction.
Gomez says Mexicans who have recently opened businesses in El Paso have found fertile ground in the United States and are here to stay.
“This is for the long-run. We are creating employment. We are paying taxes. We are seeing our businesses grow,” he says.
Gomez is ready to expand La Red’s mission and grow into other cities, but for now it won’t involve too much politics.
José Luis Mauricio, one of the organization’s founders, has discussed La Red becoming a political force in previous interviews with El Paso Inc., but Gomez is clear that the organization is not interested in political clout right now, although members will still welcome political candidates who want to speak at their weekly meetings.
“Right now, we are non-partisan,” he says.
Candidates for mayor of Juárez and governor of Chihuahua State have spoken to the group, and Gomez says many more from both the U.S. and Mexico are now asking to speak during this election cycle.
Gomez, 29, was born in Mexico City but grew up 150 miles to the north in Querétaro – an old colonial town known for its ornate Baroque monuments.
He earned a degree in marketing from Tecnológico de Monterrey in his hometown and spent two years doing market research for Kellogg, the cereal maker, in Mexico.
Gomez moved to El Paso six years ago to take a job with Mormac Brokerage Agency and now works in marketing at Lauterbach Financial Advisors.
He sat down with El Paso Inc. and talked about how La Red is different from a chamber of commerce, whether to eat lunch at noon or two o’clock, and how Mexicans prefer their corn flakes.
Q: There’s little doubt that the influx of Mexican entrepreneurs is enriching El Paso’s economy, but what is the long-term picture? If things stabilize in Juárez, are many of these business people going to move back?
This is long-term. The situation in Mexico has sped up the process of people migrating over here. This country is called the land of opportunity for a reason. The situation in Juárez made a lot of people realize they may have opportunities over here that they probably didn’t realize before.
This is for the long run. We are creating employment. We are paying taxes. We are seeing our businesses grow. There is no reason to close a prosperous business. You want to make it more prosperous.
Q: Given all the hurdles, how successful have those from Mexico been at starting or expanding their businesses here?
I can speak to what I see with those in La Red. We’ve seen very successful cases. When people understand how the process works, they do very well. That’s what we’ve been doing. We help our members understand the new culture, rules and regulations and they are thriving. Some are asking why they didn’t come here earlier.
One of our members, for example, just opened her fourth store here in town, and she only opened her first store a couple of years ago.
I don’t mean this in a bad way, but in Mexico it is harder to do business than in the U.S., so when you are successful in Mexico, it is easier to be successful here. Even though there is an adjustment, it is easier to do business here.
Q: There are groups that support business people, and specifically Hispanic business people, in El Paso already. How is La Red different?
First or all, you notice that our roots are in Mexico, but our lives are here now. So, for example, we help people become established here in El Paso. The laws here are completely different than in Mexico, so we help them to understand the laws, the process of opening a business and so on and so forth.
We are going to start working together with the chambers of commerce here to see how we can help each other. That is something that is actually happening this week. We will be meeting with the leadership of the chambers.
Q: The Hispanic chamber would certainly say it has also helped a lot of business people in Mexico start new businesses here, as the violence in Juárez has escalated. But is there a more fundamental cultural difference between the two organizations?
Well, one thing we do is focus on the friendship part, making sure our members have strong connections; that is why we meet every week. We want our members to make strong bonds with each other. We want to provide value every week. That’s a challenge, meeting the needs of our members and doing it consistently every week.
There is a difference starting with the culture, starting with the language. You notice all our meetings are in Spanish. That is something that makes our members feel more comfortable, even though a lot of them speak English.
The customs, the way of life here are completely different from what many of our members are accustomed to, living in Mexico for say 40 or 50 years. Even though we are a border town, things are completely different.
For example, something as simple as the time you have lunch. In the U.S. you have lunch at 12 o’clock, and in Mexico you have lunch at 2 p.m.
Q: I imagine business is done differently too.
Exactly. For example, a business meeting in Mexico can last three hours. At the end, you talk for five minutes about what you were supposed to talk about, then you are finished. Here in the U.S., even though we are still a border town, you go to the meeting, you discuss what needs to be discussed and you say goodbye.
Part of our mission is to help people adjust to that change, and it’s not easy even though it’s a border town and many people are from Juárez. We fill that gap.
Q: Might La Red become more active in politics?
No, at least not during my term. I believe we need to focus more on the development of our members and helping them grow and help the organization get stronger. I don’t believe we should be involved in politics right now.
We will open our doors to candidates if they would like to talk to our members, but in terms of giving political contributions or any of that, no, we are not going to do that. Right now, we are non-partisan.
Q: The Mexican business people setting up businesses in El Paso, how are they being treated?
From what I have heard from members and my own experience, I couldn’t be happier. The people here have been very open to me. I know of some members that have had some challenges, but not for racism or anything like that.
Q: How did you hear about La Red, and why did you get involved?
I heard about La Red in an article in a newspaper here. I don’t know if it was El Paso Inc. or El Paso Times, but I read about it. So I went to one of the weekly meetings, and the very moment I got there I liked how it felt – the emotion, the vibe, if you want to call it. I knew right then that I wanted to be a part of it, so I joined.
Q: La Red was founded in January 2010?
Right. Well, formally. It started as a very small group of friends – five or six people who brought their friends, who brought their friends, and it just grew. Now we are officially a non-profit here in Texas.
Q: Why did this group of friends found La Red?
It was founded because they felt kind of alone; they got here and weren’t sure what to do.
In some ways, they felt isolated and started the group thinking: “If we feel this way, there are probably other people that feel this way.”
The mission of La Red really is to connect people. Most of our members are immigrants so if you think about it, it’s about connecting immigrants.
Not only from Mexico, because we have members from France, from Canada, from Argentina, from Russia. Many people who come over here, they want to feel like they belong to something. Of course they belong to the El Paso community, but we are kind of the door openers for people who want to start a business here.
For example, we have guests who speak about accounting, we’ve had attorneys, so people can grow both personally and professionally in their business.
Q: So how do all these people, even from France and Argentina, find out about La Red?
It’s mostly been about word of mouth and the coverage media has given us, so thank you for that (laughs).
Friends who haven’t seen each other for a number of years are finding each other here in El Paso now. It’s helping people connect and find opportunities and grow personally and professionally. If you want to summarize what La Red is about, that’s it. It is about being connected, helping each other, about growing.
Q: How many members does La Red have?
We have about 80 members, but we have a lot of people who come in and out.
Q: What does it cost to become a member?
If you are an individual, it’s $100, then $30 a month.
Q: Membership has certainly grown, what about revenue?
Revenue changes every month, but really our goal is not to make millions. Our goal is to help our members. The revenue that we have is really to cover expenses. Of course we want to grow, and funds will be available for that.
Q: What has La Red done since it was founded?
One of our focuses is having quality guest speakers at our weekly meetings. We have had some high profile guests. Last week, we had the elections administrator for El Paso. People who are immigrating to America, some have never registered to vote, so we are filling that civic need for people to know what the process is.
Some may be very successful entrepreneurs, but they are still adapting to the city and the laws and the regulations and all that, so we are filling that gap.
We also help some nonprofits. For example, the Children’s Hospital, we give them monthly support. Another big thing, and I don’t know how to describe it, is just that we are starting to get noticed as an organization because of what we do. This year is an election year, and we have a lot of politicians knocking on our door.
Q: You mean elections in Mexico or the U.S.?
Really in both countries, because of the nature of the group, but we want to keep La Red non-partisan. So we are discussing ways to be equally open to members of different parties.
Q: What do you want to accomplish as chairman?
Moving forward, I want La Red to be the place to go for people moving to El Paso – to be a resource to help your business grow. We also want to be seen as a group that serves the community.
Q: What will La Red look like in five or 10 years?
I think La Red will be a recognized organization – a group of immigrants. It will help immigrants grow and become better people, probably not just here in El Paso, but other regions of the country as well.
We are in the process of determining what we want to focus more on. In other words, what we want our members to receive more of. One of the things is we want to make sure that the information we give every week at our meetings is as valuable as possible for our members.
We want to start reaching out to more organizations here to come speak to our group. For example, Helen of Troy or El Paso Electric. One of our confirmed speakers for February comes from Union Pacific. He is going to talk about the giant investment they are making in the region. You are also going to be hearing more from us in terms of events.
Q: What kind of events?
Even though we network every week, we have never had a formal networking event. The chambers have been doing it for years, and we may do one in March. We are exploring doing more keynote presentations.
Q: Since you started at Lauterbach in 2009, how has the financial planning business been?
It’s very interesting because when I got here we were right at the point when the market began to blow up and many were scared about the market. I was surprised that we didn’t lose our customers. We actually got more customers.
Q: How many clients do you have now?
We have relationships with approximately 300 clients.
Q: In Mexico, what did you do as a market researcher for Kellogg?
Well, it’s interesting because a lot of it was searching for new products, testing what customers might like or might not like price points and all that. Also the current products, see how they can be improved.
Q: You mean like figuring out what toy to put in the box?
Exactly. What is the most popular cartoon at the time so we can tie in promotions? It was a cool job.
Q: What was the most popular box of cereal?
Corn flakes. The regular type without sugar.
Q: Why did you pursue a career in marketing?
Because every product should have a story and customers need to know that story before the buy it. I am very passionate about stories and sharing what you believe and what your dreams are.
E-mail El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105.