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La Prensa

July/julio 25, 2008

Chris Conno , José Feliciano, and Lorraine Vega at the Hispanic Rountable’s Leadership Reception and Briefing on July 16, 2008, in Cleveland.

Hispanic Roundtable welcomes Sherwin Williams Company’s Connor

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent

Cleveland, July 16, 2008: Baker & Hostetler LLP hosted the Hispanic Roundtable’s Leadership Reception and Briefing in an effort to fulfill’ the Roundtable core mission of becoming full partners in Greater Cleveland’s economy and civic life.

Sherwin Williams Company’s chairman and CEO Christopher M. Connor was the featured guest and he spoke about the role Latinos play in sus- taining and flourishing the Cleveland economy.

“My message tonight is a simple one, it is one of hope and optimism,” Connor said. He applauded the Hispanic Roundtable’s mission statement of em- powering Latinos to play a greater role in the fabric of Greater Cleveland and said that is exactly what he and Sherwin Williams want for this community.

Lorraine Vega intro- duced Connor, quoting her colleague’s description of him as nice, humorous, and an exceptional business leader, who asks tough questions regarding the cre-

ation of jobs, prosperity, wealth, and titles of minority- owned businesses in North- east Ohio.

“He sits at tables and ac- knowledges that there are people who may not be present and looks for possibilities to get them to participate—he looks, in other words, for a world of color,” Vega said. She said in order for the com- munity to prosper, they must realize Cleveland companies have CEOs who are genuine, committed, and accessible.

“It is up to us to reach out, communicate, create lines, and salvage opportunities such as tonight,” Vega said.

Connor is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Team Northeast Ohio (Team NEO) and co-chairs the Cleveland Commission on Economic Partnership and Inclusion. He said the Commission is de- voted to increasing diversity among major corporations, in terms of their workforce, lead- ership, and suppliers and en- courages minority business to prosper because they increase jobs and opportunities which are vital for the region; and establish an edge to compete in the global world.

Connor said more than 100 companies and their CEOs have committed to fol- lowing specific guidelines set by the Commission to improve diversity in their leaders, board of trustees, employees, and suppliers. “Minority business owners hire minorities in greater numbers and that is a good thing,” he said. Connor cau- tioned that the commitment of CEOs is not enough—suc- cess will require effort and grassroot organizations like the Hispanic Roundtable.

The Commission was es- tablished 8 years ago and Connor said it was met with skeptics and while it has achieved numerous mile- stones much work still needs to be done. “It’s a process that never ends and never should end. I want you to know this is not something we will check off our list and move on to our daily rou- tines,” Connor said.

He also highlighted Team NEO’s commitment to make Cleveland and its surround- ing 16 counties a destination of choice for business and investors.

Sherwin Williams is a glo-

bal enterprise with strong presence in Central America. Connor praised the company’s International President, Alex Zalesky, for making strong relationships possible and acknowledged Zalesky’s Bolivian ancestry, understanding of the culture and fluency in Spanish were crucial to the company’s suc- cess.

Connor said Latinos have an astute work ethic, won- derful family values, and a profound emphasis on edu- cation—all qualities that make them the model citi- zens and the largest immi- grant group that employers are seeking out. “I hope my government will adopt an open and sane immigration policy—you are exactly the kind of people we want here,” he said.

José Feliciano, Chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable, encouraged guests to net- work and build relationships. He said as the Latino popula- tion grows the community needs to be more vocal and accessible.

“Hispanics control more than $292 billion in buying power … we will play a cru- cial role in this election, and in the future no candidate will be able to ignore us,” Feliciano said.

The Roundtable has hosted many distinguished speakers such as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, and Eaton Corporation CEO Sandy Cutler. “We were lucky and honored to have them speak,” he said.

Call to the Fields

This coming Sunday, July 27, 2008, I will move into a labor camp in the most difficult time of the year. North Carolina leads the nation in heat stroke deaths, many of the past cases happen in July and August, when men are not only battling the heat but also nicotine poisoning.

The workers FLOC represents in North Carolina harvest 26 different crops, ranging from cucum- bers to tobacco to Christmas trees. In my farmwork history, I’ve worked in all those harvests or close to them, row crops, bush or tree crops, but never anything close to tobacco with its particular chal- lenges.

I feel compelled to experience what the men go through in what is considered the worse, the riskiest, and the dirtiest of the jobs.

My sense is these men are generally getting a bad rap. Listen to the talking heads on radio and TV, railing against immigrants, legal and undocumented, doesn’t seem right to me or truthful.

I will spend a modest week working with them and hope to write what these men go through, their hopes, expectations, their tragedies, and their humanity to the public. It will allow me the privilege to speak more knowledgeably on their behalf as president of their union.

I hope to send out a nightly message and the end of each day to a select list. It is my desire to shed light from the inside, a life that most stand in judgment of, without the courtesy of walking for a season in the other’s shoes.

Baldemar Velásquez, President FLOC, Toledo July 21, 2008


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