Chamber can be ‘a lighthouse’ in crisis » Albuquerque Journal

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 JP Espinoza is chair of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce for this year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

As a kid growing up in a rough Houston neighborhood, Jon Paul Espinoza, JP for short, said he was always reaching for something more.

“I was always in pursuit of success so that my family can avoid poverty,” said Espinoza, who late last year was chosen to serve as chairman of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce for this year.

Early brushes with financial instability only reinforced Espinoza’s drive to enter a profession that would allow him to support his family to the best of his ability. But lacking a professional network, he started turning to anyone in his life who seemed successful.

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In 1999, a mentor suggested that if Espinoza wanted to make money quickly, he needed to enter sales. The mentor pointed him to an insurance company that was looking for a Hispanic life insurance agent.

“I had no idea, I never even considered insurance, never even crossed my mind,” Espinoza said. “But it was the allure of, you know, making sure that my family could be OK financially.”

In the 20 plus years since, Espinoza has risen through the ranks at New York Life Insurance to become a managing partner at the New Mexico General Office, a position he has held since 2015.

The path to success wasn’t always smooth. Espinoza said he often found himself in rooms with people that had more education, better skill sets and networks. But he said a combination of bettering himself with coaching courses and bringing his focus toward his clients allowed him to grow into his profession.

“I had to learn how to connect with people, to meet their needs and not my own,” Espinoza said. “Their desire had to be the forefront and that’s when things really started to break open and it took me a couple of years to figure that out.”

As chairman of the Hispano Chamber of Commerce, a role he assumed in November, Espinoza is on a mission to help others reach their goals while building lasting wealth.

“What I love about what we do at the chamber (is) it goes to my life mantra to help people create generational wealth,” he said. “The whole purpose of the chamber is to encourage, train, develop people to create wealth for themselves, their business and their community.”

It doesn’t escape Espinoza that he’s stepping into his new role during a time of monumental turmoil for the world of business. Economic uncertainty reigns and the very nature of business looks radically different compared to a year ago.

“We’re facing the most dire circumstances, dire environment that we’ve ever seen before in all of our lives,” he said.

Espinoza said the chamber had to quickly adapt to a digital world last year while finding new ways to help their members during one of the hardest times to be a business.

He said that even now, as the one-year mark of the pandemic’s onset approaches, many business owners are still fearful. Espinoza said it is up to the chamber to help strengthen those businesses while combating those fears.

“I think the chamber plays a critical role because we’re like a lighthouse. … When you see that light shining, even in the distance, there’s hope,” Espinoza said. “It lets people know that you’re not alone, lets people know that there’s something for you, there’s someone waiting for you, there’s someone there to encourage you and that’s what the chamber is right now, we’re like this lighthouse of hope.”

Mary Martinez, who served as the chamber’s chair last year, said Espinoza is a “breath of fresh air” for the board.

“He came in with a whole lot of energy at a very good time,” she said. “… He’s just, you know, such a positive energy and he loves connecting people and bringing people together.”

Espinoza has been looking for ways to engage the board by creating targeted work groups.

“He was looking for results (on) day one, you know, just to get everyone’s buy-in, and then has continued the conversations with people so that it’s kept alive,” Martinez said. “… It’s all always to just kind of bring other people into the chamber, to find things, other ways for the community to be aware of the chamber and everything the chamber does and be able to take advantage of those things.”

Espinoza said the biggest opportunity for the chamber this year is to continue to find new ways to keep businesses open.

To help this goal, Espinoza said the chamber is continuing to expand its online class options and his flagship cause has been the six-week procurement course that aims to take a business from the ground and positions them to be able to start receiving government contracts at the end of the course.

He said government contracts are one of the many underutilized opportunities available to small businesses in New Mexico.

“There’s a lot of businesses that can suffer, and if they suffer our economy suffers,” he said. “So it is extremely critical that we win this year. And that we bring the right services to our communities that will serve them properly.”

But this means that the chamber must adapt to the times.

“I think the days of just having an event to have an event are gone,” Espinoza said. “… We’re more strategic than ever before, because we’re not just chasing revenue, we’re chasing results.”