Dr. Val Torres is the Board Director of The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Pinellas County. The Chamber was founded in 2021 to train, mentor, and equip the Hispanic Business Community in Pinellas County so that they may thrive and inspire future generations of entrepreneurs. The Chamber currently has 100 business and individual members.
In this episode, Dr. Torres explains how building broad coalitions has fueled the growth of the Chamber.
Full episode available below…
Full Interview with Dr. Val Torres
Full Interview Transcript
[00:00:46] Amy: Welcome back to including you. My name is Amy C. Waninger, and I’m the host of the show. I’m also the founder and CEO of lead at any level. My guest today is Dr. Val Torres. Dr. Torres is the board director of the Hispanic chamber of commerce in Pinellas county. The chamber was founded in 2021 with the goal of training, mentoring, and equipping the Hispanic business community in Pinellas county, Florida, so that they can thrive and also to inspire future generations of entrepreneurs.
[00:01:15] Amy: The chamber currently has a hundred business and individual members, and I am so happy to welcome Dr. Torres to the show today. Welcome.
[00:01:23] Dr. Torres: Thank you. Thank you. I really appreciate it. I feel blessed and highly favor to be on your show.
[00:01:27] Amy: That’s very kind of you now, you and I have been connected on LinkedIn for a while and we’ve been following each other for a bit and showing support of each other, and it’s nice to finally meet folks after we’ve connected in that way.
[00:01:38] Dr. Torres: Of course, LinkedIn is my jam. It is the future of networking. I love it.
[00:01:42] Amy: I can tell you love it because of the way you engage. You’re so enthusiastic in your engagement and I, that really shows through I like that.
Dr. Torres: Thank you. Thank.
[00:01:58] Amy: So I have to ask first of all, I wanted to be known you’re a medical doctor.
Dr. Torres: Yes.
Amy: And instead of practicing medicine, you decided to boost the business community in Pinellas county, Florida, what was the driver behind starting a Hispanic chamber in that area?
[00:02:12] Dr. Torres: Yes, I have an MD. I graduated a couple years ago from St. George’s university school of medicine. I realized that I wasn’t making that much of a difference to people around the Pinellas Tampa bay
[00:02:25] Dr. Torres: area. I went back to school to grad school. I got my MBA in multi-sector healthcare management. I decided to actually do the hard work, manage the healthcare system still, healthcare is very complicated. The hospitals and the doctors don’t make the rules. The insurance companies do. You know what they say, if you can’t beat them, join ’em.
[00:02:48] Dr. Torres: I did something like that, but similar. And that took me into business. That took me into a realm where I was making a lot of strategic alliance partnerships, and that’s how you get ahead. Your network is your net worth, and I saw that the Hispanic community in Pinellas county they were very underrepresented.
[00:03:08] Dr. Torres: Now, there was no chamber of commerce for Hispanics before 2021. There’s a bigger chamber Hispanic chamber of commerce of Tampa bay, which has been around for about 50 years, five, zero. They’re great, but Pinellas is a little wave from there. So, we started this to make resources a little more available and accessible for Pinellas residents.
[00:03:32] Dr. Torres: It’s going very well.
[00:03:34] Amy: I think this is fantastic. I love people who see a problem and then just jump in with a big solution for that problem. And that’s what you’ve done here.
[00:03:45] Dr. Torres: Of course, I know, I’m a millennial by the way, and millennials constantly get a bad rep. But I decided to prove everyone wrong instead of complaining.
[00:03:56] Dr. Torres: I decided to step up, I walk my, my talk and I serve my community in a lot of ways that it really helps a Pinellas resident.
[00:04:08] Amy: I love this. So, tell me, why was the chamber itself a priority? Why is why is diversity and inclusion or building this coalition for the Hispanic community in Pinellas.
[00:04:21] Amy: Why is that priority for you?
[00:04:24] Dr. Torres: So, the economy is a priority for me kitchen table issues, right? Paychecks, kids, educations, things that involve regular Americans. Those things are priorities for me. Now, I’m not familiar, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Tampa Bay area, but there’s a lot of massive demographic changes taking place.
[00:04:46] Dr. Torres: So, the Tampa Bay area is made up of roughly eight Florida counties on the Gulf coast of Florida, namely Citrus, Fernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Sarasota. The region is becoming. Very Hispanic because of more migration south from New York and the Northeast and from Orlando and movement north from Miami and south Florida, mainly because housing is a little more affordable here.
[00:05:15] Dr. Torres: Now the population increases expected to put a strain on resources and social services and very likely exacerbate inequalities in healthcare, housing, education, economic opportunities in women and minorities. That’s the number one reason for my priorities. The second the Tampa Bay area is quickly becoming a hub to tech jobs
[00:05:37] Dr. Torres: and jobs in defense and aerospace. Not a lot of people know that, but Tampa’s getting hot. Also, many of these jobs don’t actually require a college degree, but they do still require training and certifications. So, it’s important to help underrepresented groups in these industries to get the education
[00:05:57] Dr. Torres: they need to get those jobs, and minorities, Hispanics, African Americans, native Americans, Asian Americans, all of these groups, they’re underrepresented. They need to get these jobs, that’s where I’m here.
[00:06:12] Amy: This is fantastic. Now what are some of the initiatives that you’re undertaking to close some of these gaps that you see around access education and resources for these communities?
[00:06:22] Dr. Torres: That’s a really good question. So, initiatives, I have one healthcare, two housing, three education, four economic opportunity. Let me start with healthcare, my bread and butter. So, the COVID pandemic, it hit the minority community, like a truck, and these are some of the most vulnerable people, who just lack the access to healthcare resources that most people take for granted.
[00:06:48] Dr. Torres: Now I leverage my partnerships with CPAs, financial advisors, POS, and other nonprofits to help business owners implement smart tax strategies that would cut the cost of their health insurance, and employee benefits. Now in the United States, most people’s health coverage, it’s linked to their job, that’s where I come in.
[00:07:11] Dr. Torres: These plans give employees free primary care, free, urgent care, free generic drugs, free telemedicine. In other words, it gives them access and it makes healthcare more affordable and more accessible to underserved communities, and it’s at no cost to implement when I help business owners now two housing, I work with the same team of financial advisors who offer debt elimination programs, where we help homeowners pay off a traditional 30 year mortgage in as little as seven years.
[00:07:45] Dr. Torres: Now, everyone knows a home ownership is the cornerstone of wealth accumulation and generational wealth in the United States, and this initiative helps to close those wealth gap. Third, education, I work with a team of innovators in the society of physician entrepreneurs and blacks in tech. So, we provide free and discounted resources to students who may not be able to afford a traditional college education,
[00:08:14] Dr. Torres: and they may also want to explore good paying jobs in the tech industry that don’t require college degree. Now ,I’m working with these experts also for online virtual college advisory services, where high school students are helped to make the right decisions to go to college, where they get the grants, they get the financial aid that they need.
[00:08:38] Dr. Torres: So when they graduate, they don’t have a lot of debt. These initiatives, the increased the number of minority students getting into college and actually graduating, and when these kids get back to where they, they came from, they really boost the economy. It is amazing. Also, with the virtual
[00:09:00] Dr. Torres: offerings for schooling. We’re able to bypass that limitation when it comes to your zip code. I don’t know if you’re aware of that study that was published a few years ago. It said your zip code determines where you get ahead in life. How far you reach now that zip code is tied to property taxes. If you’re in a poor area, your school is not funded well. By having virtual education services, you’re able to give minority students quality education without that limitation from their zip code
[00:09:34] Dr. Torres: and that is truly amazing, and lastly economic opportunity. We have workforce development initiatives geared towards elevating black and brown communities and other underserved communities in the tech industry as a partnership with the society of physician entrepreneurs and blacks and tech.
[00:09:52] Dr. Torres: Now by providing these certifications and qualifications to minorities, they get the jobs that are expected to come to the Tampa Bay area in the future, and also the business accelerator programs that I work in, namely, the Latino leadership Institute’s leap program. They’re currently helping Hispanic and (inaudible) student leaders grow
[00:10:14] Dr. Torres: and they’re doing that in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado is the first cohort from their second cohort onward, they’re planning to go in all 50 states, including Florida. This is where I’m trying to make that difference to help Florida residents and Pinellas county residents.
[00:10:34] Amy: That is a huge undertaking.
[00:10:36] Amy: We’re talking about a year’s timeframe. So clearly, you’re well connected and clearly you are incredibly productive because that’s a lot of work to do with a small staff you’re serving. I think you have seven or eight employees.
Dr. Torres: Yes.
Amy: And you’re serving over a hundred members plus the community at large.
Dr. Torres: Yes.
[00:10:55] Amy: That’s amazing. What do you think out of all of that? What do you think is the secret what’s going really well, that if you could point to the one key to your success in the space, what would that be?
[00:11:08] Dr. Torres: I am very grateful for the enthusiasm that we were getting from Pinellas county residents.
[00:11:14] Dr. Torres: Being a minority community where COVID just really hit us like a truck. We’ve been able to partner with a lot of other nonprofits and organization like blacks in tech, Hispanics in tech, tech aria, the Latino leadership interview. All of these people, they see what they’re doing and they’re ready and willing to help.
[00:11:32] Dr. Torres: And I love that even a lot. Even though a lot of higher education centers, like the university of south Florida, Florida international university, Optima classical academy, all of these people they’re pitching in and they just really want to help. People are excited, they’re getting more engaged, they’re participating more.
[00:11:52] Dr. Torres: There’s even been more turnout from our community service initiatives, like hands up Pinellas, like just the other day, the Florida governor came by to say hello, when the chamber members were feeding the homeless of St. Pete right. It’s amazing, the mayors of Tampon St. Pete have also been watching.
[00:12:11] Dr. Torres: They’ve been keeping their eyes on us and it’s just a very exciting time to give back and try really hard to close those equity gaps in our community.
[00:12:22] Amy: Yeah. When we talk about equity, there’s a lot of metrics there. What specific metrics are you using to measure your success?
[00:12:29] Dr. Torres: So, from the business development side of things, I measure success and dollars and cents specifically the dollars and cents.
[00:12:37] Dr. Torres: I save business owners. I look at the cost that they have the business, the biggest expenses, which is usually. Their health insurance and their employee benefits and putting in tax strategies, I’m able to save the typical client with 1000 employees around half a million dollars in direct savings from their benefits programs.
[00:12:59] Dr. Torres: Now, most businesses don’t have a thousand employees. That’s just reality. But just by doing the math, see if you have 10 employees, you can divide that number by a hundred and you get an approximate number. A lot of people think, oh health insurance, that’s kind of boring. Well, if you think about it, it’s a lot of money that you’re not spending on that you get to put it in other areas of a business like paying rent,
[00:13:27] Dr. Torres: paying your staff, leases, marketing, advertising. We’re helping business owners to make the most of the money they have so they can get ahead. That’s how I’m measuring my success. How many employees they hire, how big their businesses grow, how many more locations they, they open? I like tangible results.
[00:13:47] Dr. Torres: I like to see the numbers. That’s how I, I roll
[00:13:51] Amy: I love this. So, I was just in a program through, I hope you don’t mind a detour here, but I was just in a program with Goldman Sachs and Babson college to maybe be familiar with, and it’s called the 10,000 small businesses program, and the way they measure success is bottom top line growth
[00:14:08] Amy: of the companies that, of the businesses that go through and number of employees, and I’m sure there are other measures as well, but those are the two. That they focused on, and it was so telling to me just in reading that, it wasn’t in how many people go through the program or, they had goals around that too, but the true measures of their successes, for every business we touch, are they increasing revenue?
[00:14:33] Amy: and are they hiring more people? Because hiring more people is how you impact communities.
[00:14:38] Dr. Torres: Of course, of course. I know with diversity initiatives, I’m a very strong support and advocate for that. But a lot of those initiatives they’re theoretical. You need to implement, you need to execute those plans or else you’re not getting any tangible results and you’re not helping people.
[00:14:57] Dr. Torres: And by having businesses grow businesses, make money, you’re seeing those results, you’re demonstrating. Hey, diversity initiatives work, it does.
[00:15:06] Amy: Absolutely, absolutely. So, what’s next for you? You’ve got all of this in place. I know you’re gonna continue doing all of this amazing stuff but what’s on the horizon for you in the next in year two, which is just crazy to me that you’ve done all of this,
[00:15:20] Dr. Torres: oh, of course. So, year two is gonna be a big year for me. Now, our Hispanic chamber, we are collaborating with the Tampa Bay Hispanic chamber, and we’re gonna probably open another Hispanic chamber, start a new one in the Hernando Pasco area. That’s about an hour north of Tampa. Then all of the chambers are gonna be connecting.
[00:15:43] Dr. Torres: Now you’ve probably heard the saying before, teamwork makes the dreams work, together, everyone achieves more. That’s what we are doing. We’re using all our positions and strategic partnerships to provide a lot of intellectual and social capital for the Hispanic community in the form of best practices.
[00:16:03] Dr. Torres: It saves a lot of time, it saves a lot of effort and you know what it delivers results, now, there’s a lot of other stuff we’re doing. We are hoping to start, maintain and grow more strategic Alliance partnerships with other non-profit and for-profit organizations that value diversity. We understand that demographics are changing and it’s impossible for just one company.
[00:16:28] Dr. Torres: To just do all the work. You need a team of seasoned experts and professionals. Lastly, the business accelerator cohort that the Latino leadership Institute starting in Colorado they plan to expand in all 50 states after their second and third cohorts, that includes Florida, and I am really excited to be working with them.
[00:16:51] Dr. Torres: I wanna offer Florida business owners in Pinellas and statewide. I wanna offer them the opportunity and the resources and the access to say, hey, there’s people who wanna help us, we can get ahead, we can grow, we can improve. We’re not alone being an entrepreneur, it’s a very lonely existence, but you know what?
[00:17:14] Dr. Torres: You have a team to help you. All you need to do is ask I’m available, call me text me, message me. I’ll make the time it’s a priority.
[00:17:23] Amy: Fantastic, and it’s so true because entrepreneurship, you think that you need to do it all yourself when you start, and in some cases, you know that there are some things you do have to do yourself, but there are so many things that you can get help with.
[00:17:39] Amy: If you know where to find help, and I think that’s the trick, right? Finding help takes time too, and having a resource like the Hispanic chamber is invaluable because you’ve got all the resources you’re one stop shop for all of that
[00:17:52] Dr. Torres: I agree, and it’s a big surprise to people, you don’t need to be Hispanic
[00:17:57] Dr. Torres: to be part of the chamber.
Amy: Thank you.
Dr. Torres: You don’t right, you don’t. What we do is we create a space where if people speak Spanish, they can and there’s people to help them, but you don’t need to be Hispanic. But the biggest advantage of joining the Hispanic chamber is you got a front row seat to engage with other Hispanic business owners.
[00:18:22] Dr. Torres: Now, the numbers in the Tampa bay areas say that about 17 to 20% of the area is Hispanic, but Hispanics, they make up about 30% of the purchasing power in the area. As a business owner, you join the Hispanic chamber, you get access to that, you get into the networks, you get to do business with people who you can like, know and trust.
[00:18:48] Dr. Torres: That’s what business is about. We’re just here to help out make your life easier. Simplify business ownership.
[00:18:55] Amy: I am so glad you said what you just said, because I tell people this all the time, they say we don’t because I talk a lot about building your network and building a diverse, robust, inclusive network,
[00:19:07] Amy: and I’ll talk to people who say I don’t know where to find, right, the area that I live in is very, everybody looks like me and I don’t know where to find people that don’t look like me. And my first response is go to the black chamber or the Hispanic chamber or the Asian chamber
[00:19:24] Amy: or the LGBTQ chamber or the women’s chamber in your city because there is one I guarantee there is one and then the immediate response I get is, but I don’t fit into those groups and I don’t know if I’m welcome there, and I’m like, look, of course, you’re welcome there because without coalition building, without people outside the community, understanding what the challenges are within the community, right?
[00:19:50] Amy: What are the obstacles placed in front of that community? Who else can clear those but us, right? We’ve gotta be in all of these places too, so that we can listen and learn and take something away and do something with it. And to your point, you’re sitting down with the future of your county, of your city, of course, of your state,
[00:20:12] Amy: and if you can get in front of your future customers, your future constituents, to your business or to your network or, to your community. So, I’m so glad that I’m not the only person out here saying this because I will tell this to anybody that will listen, go sit in the back and listen,
[00:20:28] Amy: start to make friends.
[00:20:30] Dr. Torres: Of course, no I agree a hundred percent with you. We have board members who are not Hispanic. We have board members who are white. We have board members who don’t speak Spanish, personally I’m not a hundred percent fluent in Spanish. But when you’re willing to work with other people, and you’re willing to build relationships and build a team, that’s how you get ahead. Strategic Alliance partnerships. You gotta think smart work smarter, not harder.
[00:21:00] Amy: This is all so true, Dr. Torres, thank you so much for being on the show today. Thank you for sharing all of these amazing things that you’re doing in Pinellas county.
[00:21:10] Amy: I am really excited. Next time I’m down there, I was just down there recently. But next time I’m down there, we’ll have to grab coffee and I’ll have to, you’ll have to give me a little tour of the Pinellas county business community. I would love it.
[00:21:21] Dr. Torres: Yes. Yes. Thank you so much. I appreciate you.
[00:21:25] Amy: Thank you.