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Wisconsin Latino Chamber president named to US Commerce Department post

Jessica Cavazos. Photo by Robert Chappell.

Longtime Wisconsin Latino Chamber of Commerce CEO Jessica Cavazos has been named Deputy Under Secretary for Minority Business Development at the United States Department of Commerce.

Cavazos resigned from the Latino Chamber on Thursday and was sworn in to her new position Monday. She heads to DC Wednesday.

She expects to be “doing what I’m doing with the Chamber, but at a greater scale,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

She said details are still coming together, including whether she’ll relocate to DC or work remotely from Madison. She’s not even sure how she got nominated for the job.

“Wisconsin is in the spotlight for many reasons,” she said, adding, “it was the work that was accomplished over the years at the Chamber” that got the attention of the White House.

In six years as president, Cavazos took the chamber from a small, one-person operation focused on Dane County to a statewide organization with hundreds of members and seven full-time staff.

“We’re super happy for her, we’re excited,” said Latino Chamber Board Chair Marcio Sierra. “I know she’s taking this position because she has left the chamber in a place where we can succeed. She has built a great team. She has built up the membership, she has worked hard. The team we have is a testament to what Jessica has done. She has been passionate about the chamber, she has been passionate about helping people and now she’s going to do it at a macro level.”

Marcio Sierra.

Cavazos said it was an emotionally charged decision, but one she ultimately had to take.

“Not many people get to make an impact at that level nationally. If I can be the good narrator for what the Latino businesses are going through, and also be a good listener and support our businesses at that level … it was just a no brainer,” she said.

Cavazos is the first person to hold this position, as minority business development was elevated just last year from a Department of Commerce program to a full-fledged agency. Cavazos will report to Under Secretary Donald Cravins.

“He’s one force to be reckoned with,” Cavazos said of her new boss.

As Cravins’ deputy, Cavazos does not expect to focus solely on Latino businesses, though they’ll be an important part of her work.

“I have a very diverse background,” she said. “My job is going to be to serve people, whether they’re Latino, Native American, African American … I know (the Latino) community and I know that voice. Latinos at a national level feel like they’ve been dismissed and not heard. And this was just a great opportunity for me to be of service to them.”

Vice President of Operations Jorge Antezana has been named interim director of the Latino Chamber, and Javier Acevedo has been elevated from associate director of partnerships and business engagement to become chief of development. Sierra said a search committee will be formed in the near future to assess the chamber’s needs and begin the search for a permanent CEO.