Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. Check out our features on ‘fashionpreneur’ Jordan Williams, Plexpod founder Gerald Smith, innovation coach Diana Kander, Victor & Penny’s Erin McGrane, SEED Law’s Adrienne Haynes, Code Koalas’ Robert Manigold, Prep-KC CEO Susan Wally and community builder Donald Carter.
Positive change takes an educated plan, not just money, Pedro Zamora said.
“We don’t give dollars out to clients. We’re not a social services organization,” said Zamora, executive director of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation. “We look for economic strategies to help folks develop themselves and their businesses.”
The shift to a more long-term, strategy-based focus for the HEDC came when Zamora joined the organization in October 2014, he said. The nonprofit’s board tasked him with growing Latino and Westside entrepreneurship through HEDC’s now-17 county service area.
“I grew up in this community. I had the opportunity to work in corporate America as an engineer in telecommunications,” Zamora said, referencing careers at Honeywell and Sprint. “That afforded me the opportunity to raise my kids, my family and still stay in this community.”
From his office at HEDC’s 2130 Jefferson St. building, Zamora points to the organization’s outreach efforts on Central, Independence, Minnesota avenues as evidence of the strategy’s success.
“Through the technical assistance that HEDC has provided to business startups through education and access to financial capital, those arteries of our cities have now become a little bit more vibrant than in the past,” he said.
HEDC currently is in the midst of constructing a new 18,000-square-foot Center for Urban Enterprise at 2720 Jarboe St., where low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs will find an unprecedented level of educational and technical resources, Zamora said. The nonprofit also will move its offices to the space, which is on track for a fall 2018 opening, he said.
“We’re really starting to gain traction,” Zamora said. “And as HEDC and its micro-loan fund get closer to its CDFI certification, hopefully in the first quarter of this year, we bring a great amount of federal opportunity for new funding and capital into the community. That strengthens our ability to make a real difference in these underserved communities with startup businesses.”
Startland News sat down with the nonprofit leader to talk about his passions and what makes Kansas City a community worth improving.
Age: A wonderful 54 years
Hometown: I grew up in Kansas City — five blocks west of here. Twenty-third Street and Avenida Cesar E Chavez was our playground. So having that community connection helps me to keep a strong pulse on everything happening here.
A historical figure you’d like to have coffee with and why: Billy Martin. He’s historical in the world I live in, as a baseball fan. I think Billy Martin had probably one of the most creative approaches to dealing with a domineering owner in George Steinbrenner (of the New York Yankees). To be able to be brought back four times, to manage the egos of the players and the staff, and still be strategic in how to defend his life? That took a lot, and he was having fun doing it.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: I’ve gone from escargot to camel here in Kansas City. While I was in Beijing, I went out for a run and got lost one early morning. I ate some stuff on the street, and who knows what that was. I’m a pioneer when it comes to eating. I love eating. I’ll try anything once.
The animal you’d want to become in your next life: Oh, the chupacabra! I think I’m about the same height as one. And it’s an urban legend. People don’t know what the heck is going on out there.
You’re up to bat for the Royals, what’s your walk-up song: “Malagueña Salerosa,” and I want to do it with a Chicon band. It’s a very popular, romantic song written in Spanish.
KC’s biggest area for improvement: That one could probably get me in trouble. I’m going to say the city’s planning and zoning. With this greater downtown area plan that they’re doing, it seems like they’ve shifted from listening to community residents to listening to special interests. They really need to step back and recognize the work community volunteers have contributed through the years, and include them in these strategies.
Favorite food joint in KC: Can I say, “Everywhere”? I try to hit a rotation: Anton’s, Tenderloin Grill, Kitty’s Cafe, even the Mixing Bowl. I’ll go up to Los Alamos, and El Huarache. I get around.
An influential book in your life: “The Soul of the New Machine” by Tracy Kidder. I read that when I was coming out of high school, and it talked about the evolution of the computer war. It was about how computers were going to change the world. It also talked a lot about how to get people to work together on common ground to succeed. I go back and read parts of it at least once a year.
What keeps you in Kansas City: My mom. We lost my dad in 2012, and both my in-laws. My kids are all here, but I think I could uproot them pretty quick. Most recently, my work at HEDC keeps me here. I tell myself that we’re in a virtual world and I can work anywhere, but I have to stay close to my mom.
New technology that you’re most excited about: Virtual currencies and how it’s leveling the playing field. Most popular is Bitcoin. Think about how that will allow us to personalize ourselves, our wealth, and our rights. I think it opens a lot of opportunities to demonstrate the wealth of a person in their community and possibly look at stronger community-type investments in those areas based on the collective value of human life.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I honestly think I would love to be a sherpa over in Nepal. I love heights and the idea of and the ability to be isolated out in the world. Just imagine: The elite athletes that go out there to climb put their lives in the hands of a sherpa.
Word or phrase do you hate the most: “I’ll get back with you.”
Most underrated KC brand: Well, we’re launching our Center for Urban Enterprise, and I think right now we’re underrated. But another organization that’s doing great work — globally — from KC is Unbound.
What you hope you’re remembered for: I hope people will remember that I’m executive director of the Hispanic Economic Development Corporation — not the Hispanic Chamber; they always confuse me with Carlos Gomez. And I want them to remember that I’m taller than John Fierro over at Mattie Rhodes.
Biggest failure: Probably not listening to my conscience when I was in corporate America, and not doing more in my community to help break down silos. I was pursuing my own dream and my own demand to make sure my kids are prepared in life — which is important. … So, I would say the late start in getting into the nonprofit world.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I’d like to travel back to the 1950s, right at the cusp of several major breakthroughs in technology. I think there were great decisions made then, but they didn’t take a lot of risks. The risks that I’ve been exposed to could’ve helped shelter a lot of transformations of communities.
Recent weird dream: It’s a haunting of my dreams based on something that actually happened. We were down in Chichén Itzá with friends, getting ready to go up to one of the pyramids. And right as we got there from the resort — and my Spanish is not perfect — a vendor comes up to me and wants to sell me a mask or some “authentic” relic. I started talking in Spanish with him, negotiating, but after like four or five hours this guy was still following me. Everywhere we went, he was like, “I’ve got something new for you!” My buddy ended up paying the guy. I still laugh about it every time I’m out with those friends, and I even still dream about it.
Favorite travel locale: Sprint allowed me to travel regionally, nationally and globally. I’ve been overseas to China. One of my greatest dreams was to see the Great Wall. But more recently, I’ve found comfort — almost like a therapeutic relief — in going down to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for like a week. Over the past four years, I’ve been exploring the region. With the high level of technology and the high level of superstitious stuff that has happened — spiritually as well as aliens — it’s been pretty dynamic to be in that general area.
Favorite drink: I’m not a big coffee drinker, but I’ll always have one cup with my mom. So, Mom’s Folgers crystal coffee, boiled in her percolator, slow drip, like a cowboy cup of coffee. It gets me going. … Or just a simple Absolut vodka with a squeeze of lime.
What keeps you awake at night? Thinking about ensuring that we have a strategy for inclusivity in our communities. We’re in 2018, and there’s still disparity of income, disparity in programs, disparity in community support. I want to make sure there’s still ways we can make change.