Latino professionals

The Right “Formula” for UnidosNow and Our Community: Interviewing Enrique Gomez-Palacio

By Sandy Chase

Deflecting the spotlight speaks volumes about Enrique Palacio—an astute financial analyst, role model, and philanthropist—who says, “I have always believed, as part of my Christian faith, that social involvement is a must.”

Enrique embodies “true charity” because over the years, he’s given his time, talents, energy, resources, and finances to Hispanic organizations—hoping to strengthen community.  For several years he’s been involved with issues connected to the growth of the Latino population in the United States.

Executive Director Luz Corcuera says, “Enrique Palacio is one of our most amazing Latino professionals, personal mentor, and trusted friend.  Dedicated to UnidosNow, he’s our ‘poster child’ because of his hard work and business savvy—embracing two cultures—earning an MBA from Columbia University (NYC) and acquiring noteworthy business experience and expertise.”

Enrique’s diverse career spans years worked in large multinationals and mid-sized companies—eventually owning an industrial metals distribution company.

Dominic Casanueva, managing director of Merrill Lynch in Sarasota—repeatedly recognized by Forbes and Barrons during his 15-year financial career—has nothing but praise.

“I’ve had the privilege of partnering with Enrique to help manage his family’s investments and finances.  In working with him, I’ve found his insights into domestic and global economics and investments to be incredibly helpful and practical.”  

Dominic continues:  “It’s been inspiring to watch Enrique blend his analytical talents with his passion to support and develop the next generation of leaders.”  

Luz Corcuera agrees, saying, “Enrique’s understanding of and ongoing advocacy for the talented first-generation, low-income, college-bound Latinos have reinforced our mission work.  He’s steadfast in inspiring our team and students to dream big.”

Other community leaders, such as Manatee Community Foundation’s Executive Director Susie Bowie—an UnidosNow advocate—have nothing but praise for this successful, altruistic businessman.

“Enrique is a leader in his approach to giving and education, working hand in hand with students, to allow them to achieve success, confidence, and security in their higher education journey.”

Susie highlights how “His focus on anticipating needs that fall outside the typical expenses covered by financial aid and scholarships enables first-generation students to stay the course in college—an investment that helps the individual and our community.” 

President and CEO of Community Foundation of Sarasota County Roxie Jerde concurs:  “During a breakfast meeting with Enrique a few years ago, I was most impressed by his commitment to Latino students—his passion and focus.”

Luz summarizes who Enrique is:  “By constantly teaching our community to elevate its philanthropic spirit, we are all strengthening Sarasota and Bradenton—and areas beyond.”

When did you learn about UnidosNow?  

Before relocating to Sarasota in 2014, I lived in North Carolina, arriving in the late 90s.  At that time, I had a difficult time finding anyone else who spoke Spanish.  When I left—roughly 20 years later—it was estimated to be home to 350,000 Latinos. 

There were a lot of tough issues that came out of such a large influx of immigrants, and I was involved in a number of them.  Through the efforts of many people, the situation in North Carolina began to change—continuing to improve to this day.   

Once I arrived in Sarasota, it was natural for me to seek out people involved with improving the lives of Latinos.  Soon I was led to UnidosNow.

Luz Corcuera and I found that we had a lot of common interests and began to have periodic cafecitos (coffee chats), exchanging findings and sharing ideas.

Why do you support this nonprofit?

Even though I am mostly retired, the analytical work I still do on the economy and in finance revealed—quite some time ago—that powerful trends towards automation, artificial intelligence, and other advances would drastically curtail opportunities for persons with a limited education. 

When one specifically looks at the existing picture on educational achievements by children of recent Latino immigrants in the United States—and particularly in Florida—the situation is bleak.  Not only is the number of students seeking college degrees quite low, but many students who manage to enter college end up leaving school—before earning a degree.

How has your relationship with UnidosNow evolved?

Luz and I were able—with difficulty—to find some limited research on why Latinos drop out of college.  We would like to sponsor more research in this area.  But in the meantime, we have zeroed in on indications in the research that financial emergencies faced by some students force them to leave college prematurely. 

Could we find a way to help those students—financially—stay in college?  

We launched a pilot project:  the Latino Fund involves a student-support program designed to provide limited emergency assistance—accessible for four years—so that a student doesn’t get swamped unexpectedly by a money problem—negatively affecting academic performance.  By providing the necessary means, this project is also geared to students who are studying out of state so they can stay connected with their families.  

We still have a lot to learn, but there are some indications that such a program can indeed assist students in critical situations and, more importantly, provide a sense that economic assistance can be available if needed.

UnidosNow works on a wide range of valuable community programs.  My plans, however, are to concentrate my support of the organization’s work to try to get students to attend college—and stay—until they complete their programs and earn a degree.  Luz and I are laser-focused on that goal.

A friend of mine recently put it this way: college education is on its way to becoming a matter of existential life or death.  It sounds extreme but I believe it to be true.