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A word with Diane Bevan, first CEO of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

Diane Bevan (center) was appointed CEO of the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce last fall. Photo by Fiona Montagne.

Diane Bevan is the first full-time CEO of the 11-year-old Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a Nampa-based networking organization. The chamber has 125 members and a 14-member board; Bevans is its only employee.

Bevans, a native of Nowata, Oklahoma, was hired as CEO in November. She previously worked as membership development director of the Meridian Chamber of Commerce. Before that, she ran a wedding event center in Burley and worked in finance in Austin, Texas. She’s also working now as director of public affairs for the LDS church in Meridian and as a member of the city’s faith council.

Bevan grew up on a farm in a family of six girls and two boys and studied broadcasting at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. She recently spent some time talking to the Idaho Business Review about her position and her goals for the Hispanic Chamber. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What drew you to this job?

My mom ran our local Chamber of Commerce. We have a newspaper clipping of her first ribbon-cutting, when I was 4 years old. It was for a doctor’s office. I grew up planning parades and fireworks shows and rodeos. When you’re in a small, rural town in Oklahoma, the chamber does everything. I started out as an event planner young.

The Hispanic Chamber had never had a CEO. It was started by a couple of guys in Nampa and has been run by volunteers, and their directors are from all over the valley. They reached out to me because they had watched me at the Meridian chamber, where I had created a lot of energy.

I have such an ingrained love for city chambers, especially in rural areas. I grew up in a rural area. I owned a business in rural Idaho, and I know the benefits, blessings and struggle of being a business owner in a small area of the state.

I don’t have Hispanic in me, but growing up in rural Oklahoma as part Cherokee Indian, I definitely have a love for the minority population. My high school was segregated in the 1980s into the black part and the white part. It was just the weirdest thing for me. Very young, I recognized that society treats cultures and people differently based on their race and ethnicity.

I’m always extremely respectful of the Hispanic culture and their community. People ask me all the time what my Hispanic connection is. I love the people and I love business, and that’s what has been my driving force since I was little. I’m all American.

What is the goal of Hispanic business owners in the chamber?

The main purpose of the Hispanic Chamber is to promote and enrich the Idaho business community with education, leadership, advocacy and networking. Those are the four pillars.

If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that they don’t want to be segregated; they want to be included. Our main goal right now is to expand the chamber statewide. We’re creating chapters; our south-central chapter was just installed, and we’re creating a governing committee there, and we have a new board member from Twin Falls. We will create a southwest region here very, very soon, and then the next big event will be the eastern Idaho kickoff. That will be before the end of the year.

As I am traveling the state, Hispanic businesses are all starting to engage with us. It’s not about creating a big chamber that is segregated from the rest of the chambers; it’s about, “How do we make this work with the city chambers? How do we encourage the Hispanic business community to engage with their city chambers?”

My goal with the Hispanic Chamber is to build the city chambers with Hispanic-owned businesses. We’re a state chamber. We’re not planning to open offices and do monthly networking events; we’re not competing with the city chambers. It will be a dual membership with no additional cost to local chamber members.

Why is it difficult for companies to hire and attract Hispanic workers?

I have a weekly conversation where someone says, “I don’t know how to tap into the Hispanic community, and I need bilingual employees.”

That’s one of the greatest values of linking up with the Hispanic chamber. It’s the networking. It’s really not any different from trying to get any kind of talent; you need to be where they are comfortable. When we have a big event, our demographics are 50 percent Hispanic-owned businesses, and the other 50 percent are non-Hispanic business owners who are hiring.

There are a lot of misconceptions about the Hispanic Chamber, and one is that all our events are in Spanish, or you have to speak Spanish if you join. We invite everybody to join us, and everybody to connect with us. A lot of non-Hispanic businesses have done so; they are our biggest partners.

We are having a bilingual recruitment expo in August for anyone who can effectively communicate in more than one language. There are a lot of refugees who speak more than one more language. We want to put value on the ability of a second language. A lot of our surrounding states pay a little higher for those who are bilingual.

How is the Hispanic business community different?

There are a lot of first-generation entrepreneurs. It’s a different culture. They’re very loyal to each other; they have one of the strongest networking groups I have ever seen. It’s very unofficial, but they know someone for everything; just ask a small business owner if he knows a landscaper or contractor, and they have connections.

This is about changing the mindset about how to network, and going outside of their comfort zone a little bit. The city Chamber of Commerce is not their comfort zone. This is why it’s important to have a non-Hispanic director of the chamber; I can bring everybody together and open the doors and put all the right people in the room.

Will the Hispanic Chamber be involved with the immigration issue?

We do get a lot of requests about the big topics. As a chamber, we have certain obligations. Because we are a member organization, we can’t endorse a specific candidate. We can advocate for Hispanic business owners, for the Hispanic community, and we do promote classes for citizenship. It’s definitely an issue. We work with the Idaho Dairymen’s Association, and we have board members who are very active in the advocacy side of immigration, but I don’t think anyone has the perfect answer for that. So I would be very leery to make a hardcore statement without having some board members present, because they did come to a decision on this and lost some board members over it because not everyone was on the same page.

What are other big issues facing the Hispanic community?

There are a lot of Hispanic entrepreneurs in Idaho; they’re a very entrepreneurial society. They have restaurants, printing companies, little insurance agencies. A focused conversation needs to happen at earlier ages and with parents about education and the workforce. We are working on parent awareness classes. These conversations need to happen when children are still in middle school. By the time a child is in high school, a very large portion has decided whether they have a future outside of high school, whether it’s college or workforce skills. And if you want to talk to a sixth or seventh grader, it’s a parent conversation.

What’s next for the Hispanic Chamber?

We just did a $1,000 scholarship in the name of Ismael Fernandez (a young Wilder City Council member who died in a car accident in January). We have people from the Small Business Administration coming to talk to us about rural outreach and creating a scholarship for Hispanic-owned businesses to join their city chambers. If they’re a fit for the city chambers, we’ll pay their membership. And I want to create a small business resource center in Canyon County to serve our minority business owners.

Our goal is to be represented across the state, and also with the Native American business owners. It’s not just about the Hispanic community; we do reach out to others, to the Bosnians, to a lot of the ethnic small business owners who aren’t joining the city chambers and who aren’t Hispanic. They’re doing the best they can in their little group, but I invite everyone to join us. It’s about making connections.

Bilingual Recruitment Expo

The Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is holding a bilingual recruitment expo on Friday, Aug. 10 at the Nampa Civic Center at 311 3rd St. South in Nampa. The expo runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 208-323-1337.

About Anne Wallace Allen

Anne Wallace Allen is the editor of the Idaho Business Review.