By Brian Powell
Lea Márquez Peterson loves business.
She likes owning and running her own business. And she enjoys promoting businesses both big and small, helping them expand their workforce and market.
Márquez Peterson, president and CEO of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce since 2009, is an influential Arizona business leader who was a close advisor to Doug Ducey’s gubernatorial campaign, and later appointed by the governor as co-chair of the Arizona Zanjeros business-ambassador organization. Last year she merged the Tucson Hispanic Chamber’s membership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to enhance the advocacy of business interests in Arizona.
The Flinn-Brown Civic Leadership Academy Fellow says she has always had a strong interest in business.
“I come from a very entrepreneurial family—my grandparents owned a business, my parents had two separate businesses, my brother owns his own business. It’s in my blood,” Márquez Peterson says.
Márquez Peterson says she’s a “retailer at heart” whose past experiences help her promote the more than 1,800 members of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber.
The chamber leads trade mission trips to Mexico four times a year, has developed relationships with Mexican officials, and has expanded to Nogales, Sierra Vista and Douglas.
“We realized early on that the biggest missed opportunity for the business community is trade with Mexico; less than 1 percent of Arizona companies do exporting,” Márquez Peterson says.
Márquez Peterson says the Flinn-Brown network has played a critical role in expanding her organization. For instance, she developed contacts in southern Arizona cities through Flinn-Brown, which was launched in 2010 by the Flinn Foundation to help develop state-level civic leaders. Today, there are about 225 Fellows from throughout the state.
In addition, Márquez Peterson helped initiate the Tucson Hispanic Leadership Institute, a 12-week program of weekly classes plus a full-day retreat. She also launched the nonpartisan Southern Arizona Candidate Academy to teach debate, public speaking, and other skills.
Her work at the Tucson Hispanic Chamber also brought her into the state-level political arena.
In 2012, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber opposed Proposition 204, which would have made permanent the temporary one-cent sales tax approved by Arizona voters in 2010. So did Ducey, then the Arizona state treasurer, who Márquez Peterson met during the campaign. He later asked Márquez Peterson to be on his 2014 gubernatorial-campaign advisory council. She accepted and worked on Ducey’s behalf throughout the campaign, and then later served on his transition committee.
“I was honored and proud to be there from a southern Arizona perspective, as a woman, Latina, and business owner,” Márquez Peterson said. “I was able to bring different perspectives than others on the advisory council.”
After his election, Ducey appointed Márquez Peterson as co-chair of the Arizona Zanjeros business leadership group, which is comprised of the state’s leading CEOs and business leaders. She works alongside co-chair Michael Bidwill, president of the Arizona Cardinals. The private, nonprofit group works to attract companies to the state and spread the word about the benefits of doing business in Arizona.
Last year, the Tucson Hispanic Chamber merged its membership with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Márquez Peterson had met Arizona Chamber president Glenn Hamer when he was a presenter during a Flinn-Brown seminar in 2011. They started talking and later joined each other’s board of directors before the merger. Márquez Peterson said the strategic partnership provides an opportunity to collaborate on advocacy, trade with Mexico, and education.
Earlier in her career, Márquez Peterson worked for Shell Oil Company; subsequently, she owned and operated six gas stations in the Tucson area. Since 2004, she has been owner of the Márquez Peterson Group, a business brokerage firm, and was named the first executive director of Greater Tucson Leadership in 2005, two years after graduating from the program. She has been active in many business groups, including an appointment by the Obama administration to the National Women’s Business Council.
Márquez Peterson received undergraduate degrees in marketing and entrepreneurship from the University of Arizona, and her MBA from Pepperdine University.