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The event at the Patricia Reser Center for the Arts was both a celebration and call to action for the Latino community.

PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - A large crowd attended Centro Cultural de Washington County's Economic Symposium in Beaverton on Wednesday, Oct. 12. U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (left on stage) briefly interviewed U.S. Asst. Secretary of Commerce Alejandra Castillo (right).

Want a brighter future? Dream big.

That was the central message from Centro Cultural de Washington County's economic symposium in Beaverton on Wednesday evening, Oct. 13.

The symposium brought out local and federal officials, community leaders, and more to talk about a new vision for the economy in Washington County and beyond.

It was a chance to celebrate the economic contributions of Latinos to the local and national economy. It was also a chance to talk about the barriers to prosperity that the Latino community still faces.

The night featured remarks from Alejandra Y. Castillo, who serves in the Biden administration as assistant secretary of commerce for economic development. She has served under three different presidential administrations.

Castillo encapsulated the mood of the night in her remarks.

"If your dreams don't scare you, then you aren't dreaming big enough," Castillo said.PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Castillo spoke during the symposium about the economic barriers Latinos face, and how to overcome them.

'Rules are changing'

Castillo and many others spoke about the once-in-a-generation opportunity that the United States has to reframe the economy around communities who have contributed much throughout its history but reaped little.

"There is a huge, transformational change happening, and that means rules are changing," Castillo said. "For many of us Latinos, we never got to be at the table when the rules were drafted. For the first time, it feels like Latinos are at the table."

She and others mentioned the results of the 2020 U.S. Census, which showed that Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic in the country. (Nearly one in five Washington County resident identifies as Hispanic or Latino, according to Census Bureau estimates.) That brings with it both political and economic opportunities, Castillo said.

"If we are the fastest growing … then we are indelibly tied to the future of our country," she said. "This is the wake-up call that we all need to have … we need to be seen as Latinos. Yes, our numbers are growing, but we need to be seen and to be heard."

During a brief sit-down segment with Castillo and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, who represents Washington County in Congress, both said that there are systems in this country "that don't always open the doors for Latinos." PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, speaks with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce Alejandra Castillo during Centro Cultural's Economic Symposium in Beaverton on Wednesday, Sept. 12.

Panel discussion

The symposium then featured a panel discussion with local leaders and national financial policymakers who spoke on ways to change those systems to be more inclusive.

Panelists included Luis Granados, chief executive of the Mission Economic Development Agency; Margaret Salazar, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Luis Gonzalez, vice president and head of business growth for Wells Fargo Bank; Ian Galloway, vice president and regional executive of the Portland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; and Washington County Administrator Tanya Ange.

They spoke about ways to open those doors for Latino business owners and to make the systemic changes that will lead to more investment in the Latino population — which panelists repeatedly referenced as "el corazón de la economía," or the heart of the economy, which was the stated theme of the event.

Data from the Federal Reserve estimates that, if all Latinos in the United States were considered their own separate country, they would have the world's seventh-largest gross domestic production, roughly that of France or India, according to 2022 statistics from the World Population Review.

Despite this, Gonzalez with Wells Fargo said that projections show Latino families have just 22 cents of wealth for every dollar that a white family makes on average. If that gap were closed, Latinos would pump another $2.6 trillion into the national economy more than they already do. PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - A panel discussion during the event featured, from left to right: Luis Granados, chief executive of the Mission Economic Development Agency; Margaret Salazar, Regional Administrator of the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; Luis Gonzalez, vice president and head of business growth for Wells Fargo Bank; Ian Galloway, vice president and regional executive for the Portland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco; and Washington County Administrator Tanya Ange.

Focus on equity

Panelists referenced federal policy reforms and monetary reforms that are being made through the lens of equity. Two of the biggest were reforms to the Community Reinvestment Act, which expanded access to credit and banking services to low- and moderate-income communities.

Another was the first-ever "equity framework" for the federal Housing and Urban Development agency, in an effort to encourage more home ownership and less housing discrimination against minorities.

In Washington County, Ange noted that the county commission recently passed its first "racial equity resolution," which similarly overhauls the way that county policies look at issues through a lens of diversity and inclusion for underrepresented communities.

Just this year, the county also adopted an equity charter, one of the results of that resolution. That vote established a committee that reviews county policies with an eye for equity and makes recommendations to the administration and commissioners.

"This is about, collectively, what are we doing to work toward a brighter future," Ange said.

While the symposium dealt primarily with discussions of economic policy, the event was also a recognition of the work of Centro Cultural, which is celebrating its 50th birthday this year.

"We always lead with a people focus and a heart-driven mindset," said Jonath Colon, deputy director of Centro Cultural and director of the Hillsboro-based Centro de Proseperidad. "It makes me wonder what questions we will be asking of Centro staff 50 years from now." PMG PHOTO: TROY SHINN - The city of Hillsboro was presented with the Economic Equity Award from Centro Cultural for its partnership with the nonprofit and for helping build the Centro de Prosperidad in downtown Hillsboro. Jonath Colon (left), director of that center in Hillsboro, presented the award to Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway (center left), city economic and community development director Dan Dias (center right), and Hillsboro City Manager Robby Hammond (right).

City recognition

Towards the end of the night, an award was presented on behalf of Centro to the city of Hillsboro, for its partnership in creating the Centro de Prosperidad — a job training and economic assistance center in downtown Hillsboro.

Mayor Steve Callaway accepted the award on behalf of the city.

"We are proud that it is in the heart of Hillsboro and in our downtown," he said. "Thank you for being Hillsboro's partner. I can tell you that we have received so much more than we've given."

Finally, the event was also a chance for the local business leaders in the audience to make a donation to Centro's $1 million endowment fund, which the organization says will be used to invest in future generations' economic prosperity.

Donations to the endowment fund can be made through Centro Cultural's website.


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