Katherine O'Hara was surprised to find out she had been invited to meet with Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump's daughter and a businesswoman herself, last month.
The founder of the O’Hara Project in Morristown was selected as part of a small contingency through the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and she was the sole representative from New Jersey — a state that boasts Hispanics as its largest minority at roughly 20 percent — to meet with Ivanka Trump.
The first daughter’s role and influence in the White House has been a point of controversy as she now serves in an unpaid capacity as special assistant to her father.
For the USHCC, it’s not a bad development.
“Ivanka Trump is nothing but a boon for us,” said Javier Palomarez, CEO and president of the USHCC.
O’Hara said the vibe of the meeting surprised her.
“I’m surprised, strictly as a citizen, to have been called up to be engaged in the conversation. They usually happen behind the scenes,” O’Hara said. “Ivanka was gracious and incredibly engaged. She made it clear she’s always had a clear focus on entrepreneurship. She and her team actively took notes, phones were off, and she asked for specific follow-ups post-meeting.”
And it wasn’t just for show, O’Hara said. A few weeks after the meeting, there were indeed follow ups on some of the items.
Palomarez said the meeting, which focused on the needs of Latina small business owners — a huge growth sector in the community — was a result of having a champion of his organization inside the White House.
When the opportunity presented itself to meet with Trump, Palomarez arranged to have an accurate representation of his organization. That included about a dozen women business owners from startups and established businesses, who were geographically diverse both in where they are based in the U.S., as well as their country of origin.
The meeting took place despite the administration’s policies and reforms on immigration and trade.
“The reality of it is, while this young presidency and young administration is under a great deal of scrutiny, what is apparent to me, and I can say this unequivocally, there has not been a lack of willingness to engage me and my association,” Palomarez said. “While we at the association will never agree, ever, with some of the positions that the president or the administration have taken — and they know how I feel; I’ve been very open about certain pieces of their policies — the real test is whether they continue to engage. When I disagreed with the wall and disagreed with other things, it actually made them engage even more.”
And though it is a challenging time in the country, especially for immigrants, Palomarez said within the challenge and uncertainty is room for opportunity.
“For us, it’s finding the opportunity to collaborate,” he said. “People like Ivanka become important to us because without her, we cannot have a dialogue.”