A brainchild born in Falls Church just six months ago, a major new national institution was unveiled Tuesday night with a founding press conference and banquet to celebrate the new Vietnamese-American Chamber of Commerce.
With offices in Falls Church, adjacent the City’s Eden Center, known as the foremost shopping and retail destination for Vietnamese-Americans on the entire East Coast, the new business organization, adopting a marketing nickname of VietAmCham, seeks to represent over 150,000 small businesses in America owned by Vietnamese-Americans.
Its growth since the first inception last March has been stunning, and its vision even greater. Elected Vietnamese-American lawmakers from Louisiana and California were present to speak at Tuesday’s formal banquet.
Already, VietAmCham leaders have forged friendly bonds with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Asian-American Chamber of Commerce and, in their founding neighborhood, with the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this month, Falls Church Chamber members were invited to a small reception at the Eden Center to meet with leaders of the emerging VietAmCham group, facilitated by Allen Frank, management director of the Eden Center.
Well-developed ideas pertaining to the group’s mission and objectives, small business perspectives, community development goals, and policy and political initiatives were laid out at the press conference held in Arlington’s Westin Hotel prior to the banquet Tuesday.
Words like “empowerment,” “national voice,” “community development,” “reaching out,” “bridging” and “engagement,” were in frequent use, as the founding board members took turns spelling out aspects of the potential for the new configuration.
“There is no better timing for bringing VietAmCam into being than the current bad economic environment,” said Lieu Nguyen, chair of the group’s board of directors.
Many of the Vietnamese-American business owners have no idea of the resources or opportunities open to them, it was pointed out. The new Chamber will facilitate the sharing of information, ideas and business networking opportunities.
For example, according to board member Hguyen Dinh Thang, many small business owners are unaware that special options exist for them as minority-owned entities in government contracting and Small Business Administration programs.
An immediate goal, Lieu Nguyen said, will be to “tap into federal stimulus funding for small businesses.”
“Many Vietnamese-American businesses are your ‘mom and pop’ stores who have survived within their comfort zones,” it was pointed out, a case true for many of the small retailers at the Eden Center in Falls Church.
“We want to create a networking platform and a national voice to make a difference,” said Shandon Phan, who is a board member of the Vietnamese-American Bar Association.
Cliff Nguyen, a young Harvard grad who gave up a job on Wall Street to become a small business entrepreneur as chief executive of the Willow Development Company, was introduced as part of the “youth movement” of VietAmCham.
Lieu Nguyen said that he is exemplary of the second generation of Vietnamese-Americans in the U.S. since the fall of Saigon, who are tending to leave the communities of their upbringing and “not look back.”
“We want to reach out to these, to engage and harvest their energy to bring new vitality to our community,” she said. “Our goal is to build bridges of connection within our community, with other ethnic communities and mainstream society.”
One example of the work that needs to be done, Nguyen Dinh Thang said, is to persuade the U.S. Census Bureau to use Vietnamese-language newspapers to advertise the importance of having their communities properly counted. “There have been no ads to date,” he said.
Among the speakers at the banquet was U.S. Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.), while State Assemblyman Van Tran (R-Ca.) and State Rep. Hubert Vo (D-Texas) also hailed the founding of the group.