EDISON, NJ — As a business and community development executive, Luis De La Hoz has spent his entire career helping local small businesses develop growth strategies and supporting organizations with Latino and minority leadership. His achievements have been recognized both locally, and now, globally, as he was recently appointed as an “Immigrant ambassador for Colombia”.
In 2019, Colombia decided they would celebrate their immigrants across the world by honoring them as ambassadors. De La Hoz caught the attention of the Colombian government with his efforts in assisting small businesses amid COVID-19. Out of 150 nominees, he was one of five selected.
“I’m representing the community side, the small business side, the Colombian immigrant. That was very moving,” he says. “This was the first year that was given, and that’s actually a big honor.”
De La Hoz has made a name for himself through his accomplishments and by always giving back to the community. He is the first Vice President Director of Community Lending for Valley Bank and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. He belongs to the Board of Directors of the Middlesex Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trustees of the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and the Board of Directors of the Puerto Rican Action Board in New Brunswick.
He is a top social media influencer among the Hispanic community and has been recognized as one of the top 10 most influential people of color in New Jersey by ROI-NJ.
De La Hoz’ began his journey when he moved from Colombia to the United States in 2004. He started his career providing personal income tax for low and moderate-income families and became the partner-owner and manager at MarMar Enterprises.
De La Hoz noticed not many small business owners were considered by local organizations. As business owners struggled with language barriers and outreach, De La Hoz then shifted his focus specifically to Latino business owners who felt overlooked. Years later, he realized that in order for him to grow, he needed to become bilingual, improve his communication skills, and build his network.
He began providing training consultation and loans to low-income entrepreneurs in New Brunswick at The Intersect Fund, a non-profit Community Development Financial Institutions Fund certified microlender.
During his time there, De La Hoz became the Senior Vice President of Lending. In addition to driving further organizational growth and expansion in the community, he personally closed nearly 300 business loans, ensured that the loss-loan ratio remained below 5%, and trained and supervised loan officers.
De La Hoz developed a loyal customer base to his business’ services after small business owners experienced hardships following the 2008 financial crisis, Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy. He was eager to help this particular group that had been disregarded by others.
“I only have two things that I can share: my knowledge and my time,” De La Hoz says. “I will do it to the point that will make a difference.”
De La Hoz has provided small business owners with access to capital, new markets and networks. Recently, he has assisted them in bridging the digital divide due to COVID-19.
While he was aware his efforts were being recognized locally, he had no idea they were also being recognized over 2,000 miles away in his native country.
“I was able to help people that nobody was helping, especially during the pandemic, and that's what caught the attention,” De La Hoz says. “Entrepreneurship is the best way that we have to overcome poverty, and that's what we were helping.”
During the ceremony announcing his appointment, De La Hoz was happy to see so many small business owners in attendance that were excited to see him honored.
“That's what it's about. It's about them because not many people were paying attention to them,” De La Hoz said. “It's (about) giving options to the ones that don't have a voice.”
De La Hoz is a proud Colombian American who has achieved the American dream within his 16 years of living in the states. He encourages other immigrants to persevere and work hard so they can accomplish the same.
“You need to be consistent. You need to overcome criticism because [there will be] people that don't understand what you do. They’ll criticize what you are trying to do,” De La Hoz said.
De La Hoz says when he was describing what he does for a living 10 years ago, some people thought (and still think) he was crazy.
“I tell them, ‘Listen, until I get hospitalized, I'm winning. The day that they bring me to the hospital, and they say, ‘You are officially crazy,’ I know that I'm winning,’” he says. “But this is the thing: sometimes, it's hard to explain things when you are the only one that sees it.”
De La Hoz says he was typically the only Hispanic in many meetings and admits it was a “little uncomfortable” initially. However, he didn’t let that stop him from doing what he set out to do.
“We have opportunities, but we need to do the hard work and we need to have discipline,” he says.
In the upcoming years, De La Hoz hopes to see more Latino small business owners not just providing economic contributions, but also generating jobs and wealth and getting involved in their local communities.
“It's our responsibility not only for us, but for our kids, to be able to add value long-term; how, as business owners, we can contribute to the security of our neighbors, to the economy, to employment, to many other things,” De La Hoz says. “I'm pretty sure that if we are able to articulate that, we will have a better role in the near future, and we will offer a better country for our kids.”
De La Hoz urges corporations to offer services to the Hispanic community, as there are roughly 120,000 Latino business owners in New Jersey that contribute over $20 billion to the state’s economy. Additionally, demographics show more Latinos are pursuing a college education and achieving higher-ranking corporate positions.
“We are loyal. People who treat us well, we will treat them very well,” De La Hoz says. “We are loyal to brands. We are loyal to corporations that support us and support our community.”