As children were rushing off to school and the a.m. commute was in full swing during an otherwise routine Thursday morning, Vice President Mike Pence was arriving at a quiet church in Scottsdale.
Mr. Pence, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, Sen. Martha McSally and U.S. Treasurer Jovita Carranza all took part in a roundtable discussion Oct. 3 with a group of Hispanic leaders at the First Baptist Church of Scottsdale, 7025 E. Osborn Road. The event was in celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, as well as promoting economic and job growth within the Hispanic community, officials said.
Mr. Pence’s trip to Arizona included attending a victory event for Ms. McSally, as well as visiting Tucson before returning to Washington D.C.
On Thursday, the elected officials arrived at the church in west Scottsdale one by one before allowing media in to the small meeting room to hear opening remarks.
The remainder of the discussion amongst the Hispanic leaders and dignitaries, which lasted less than one hour, was private.
In Arizona, there is about 6,000 small and medium-sized enterprises, which have provided about $20 billion in export with $1.7 billion being in agriculture, Ms. Carranza said.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s Hispanic community is recording its lowest unemployment rate at less than 5%.
Martha Llamas, a local franchise business owner who offers janitorial services across the Valley, including Scottsdale, said she thought the roundtable was very motivating.
Ms. Llamas, who was invited to the event to represent small business owners, is the definition of the American dream, she said.
Born in Tapalpa, Jalisco, Ms. Llamas has faced difficulties throughout life — even being shot by her children’s father during a jealous rage. In 2002, Ms. Llamas and her fiance purchased a Jani-King franchise, and has built-up her business for the past 17 years. She now employees 70 people.
Her franchise is recognized as one of the most successful in Jani-King’s history, consistently performing in the top 5% for annual revenue, in a field of over 9,500 U.S. franchises.
She has generated more than $1 million in business every year since 2003.
“It was fantastic,” Ms. Llamas said after the roundtable. “It was really motivating and it gave me hope.”
Ms. Llamas said one of her main goals during the event was to tell Mr. Pence about the struggles she deals with.
“For us, as small business owners, I put my issues out there and tell them what I’m dealing with on a daily basis because I literally work with people in the janitorial industry,” she said. “Most of my people, 95% of my people make minimum wage.”
Pointing to a continuing cycle of Hispanic residents who are reliant on food stamps and government subsidiaries, Ms. Llamas says there is a constant struggle.
“I’m trying to see outside the box, how can we fix this?” She asked. “I think I can go back and tell [my employees] I said what I had to say to help us all, to help us and let us grow our dreams. Let us be who we are.”
While Ms. Llamas and the politicians voiced excitement about the current economy status, Ms. Llamas said all small business owners are struggling to find employees.
“Now, in a construction company, any small business, any restaurant, we’re all struggling to find employees,” Ms. Llamas said, noting that she hires two to three new people every day. “It’s a great thing, the economy is great, but now what?”
The local impact
The three politicians talked about Arizona’s economic growth, specifically in the Hispanic community.
Mr. Pence said for the past 17 months, job unemployment has been at its lowest for the Hispanic community specifically; meanwhile he reported a 50-year low in national unemployment.
“It’s a great privilege to come here to have a conversation at the very onset of Hispanic Heritage Month and a very exciting time in the life of the economy in Arizona and the economy of this nation,” Mr. Pence said. “It’s also an exciting time for the Hispanic American community — we couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s a time when as a nation we pause and we really celebrate the extraordinary contributions the Hispanic Americans have made to the life of this nation throughout our history.”
Mr. Pence said unemployment in the Hispanic American community today is less than 5%.
“It had only gone under 5% for a single month in the last 43 years of the history of this country,” Mr. Pence said. “The opportunity we’ve given every American to keep more of what you earn, for businesses to have more income, lower taxes, less red tape and regulations... It’s been the Hispanic American community that has seized those opportunities in unique ways.”
Mr. Pence said since election day in November 2016, 2.4 million jobs have been created in the Hispanic community, and more than 1 million Hispanic women have entered the workforce.
As for the roundtable, Mr. Pence said he was looking forward to talking to the Hispanic leaders about continuing to build on those opportunities.
Gov. Ducey said for Arizona, the Hispanic population grew by 42% from 2000-17.
“Today it’s over 2.2 million people,” Gov. Ducey said. “By 2022, the Hispanic buying power in Arizona will surpass $57 billion, so I want to thank you all for your commitment to Arizona and opening up opportunity in the southwest.”
Maricopa County has been the fast growing county in the nation for three years, and Phoenix was recently named the fastest growing city nationwide, the governor said.
“This is not on any small basis, this is 4.8 million people — larger than 26 other American states,” Gov. Ducey said. “We want to take advantage of this and reaffirm our commitment to the Hispanic community, because it has been their involvement and contribution that has been such a driver in this success.
"Their relentless work ethic, their unwavering belief in the American dream. This community has been integral to what’s happening in our state.”
Sen. McSally is particularly proud of the growing number of female entrepreneurs, she said.
“You are the job creators, you are the ones getting up every day and making such a difference — the men are as well — but the growing number of female Hispanic owned businesses is just incredible across the country and across our state.”
Ms. McSally says the Arizona population is about 30% Hispanic and will continue to grow.
An economic renaissance
After the event, Mr. Pence, flanked by Sen. McSally and Gov. Ducey, spoke on the roundtable and took questions. He described the economic boom happening in Arizona as something the “American people haven’t seen for a very long time.”
Mr. Pence said his biggest take away from the day’s meeting was the sense of pride coming from Arizona’s Hispanic community.
“When you look at the growth and prosperity that’s happened since 2016 in the State of Arizona and you understand the roll that Hispanic Americans have played in that, it was a real cause for celebration today,” Mr. Pence said. “My big message was, as we see an economy that’s created 6.3 million new jobs, it’s been Hispanic Americans, Hispanic small businesses, Hispanic entrepreneurs have been driving that economic renaissance. There was a lot of optimism in the room and a lot of appreciation for the policies that are making this economy great again.”
Pointing to the momentum in the Arizona economy, Mr. Pence promoted the proposed United-States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement trade deal — a topic of conversation he was set to travel to Tucson to discuss later in the day.
“We believe the time has come for Congress to set aside politics and pass the USMCA. The United-States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement was negotiated and finished, roughly a year ago, and ever since that time Congress has been looking at, studying it, discussing it — all the while Mexico and Canada have both taken decisive steps to put what will be the largest trade deal in American history in to effect,” Mr. Pence said.
“A conservative estimate of the impact on our economy is the USMCA will create more than 175,000 good paying jobs all across this country. It also ends the incentive of American businesses to move south of the border.”
Mr. Pence said the agreement is a win for American workers.