- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the U.S. is climbing three times faster than the national average for all businesses, according to Census Bureau figures released yesterday.

Hispanics owned almost 1.6 million companies in 2002, a 31 percent jump from five years earlier. By comparison, the total number of U.S. firms rose 10 percent to nearly 23 million companies.

The Washington-Baltimore area has the seventh-largest population of Hispanic-owned businesses in the country, with 32,412 companies. They brought in $5.4 billion in sales in 2002.

Fairfax County has the most Hispanic companies in Virginia — 7,302 — and is home to 11 of the top 500 Hispanic businesses in the country. Another nine are elsewhere in Virginia, eight are in Maryland and four are in the Washington. Prince William County has the fifth-fastest growing population of Hispanic businesses in the nation.

Jorge Restrepo, a Washington native born to Colombian parents, in 2003 opened Eureka Facts LLC, a Rockville marketing research and analysis firm. He said the growth of Hispanic-owned business is only beginning.

“In Maryland, because the growth is so high, half of the [Hispanic-owned] businesses are five years old or less,” said Mr. Restrepo, who is also the president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Montgomery County. “I have seen tremendous growth.”

The growth of Hispanic-owned businesses, which make up about 7 percent of all U.S. companies, can be linked to the climbing Hispanic population. Between 2000 and 2004, the percentage of Hispanics in the United States rose from 12.5 percent to 14.2 percent.

Today, about one in every 10 employed people is Hispanic. By 2050, it’s projected that one in every four will be Hispanic.

“The Hispanic population is the fastest-growing — now the largest — minority group in the country,” Mr. Restrepo said. “In the Washington area, we have a very stable economy. If offered a business opportunity, there is fertile ground to grow.”

Security One Bank, which is scheduled to open in Baileys Crossroads next month, has at least two Hispanic professionals on its board of directors and plans to target Hispanic business owners.

“[The bank] was an idea that had a lot of merit to it and possibilities for serving the community with access to capital for the Hispanic businesses coming up,” said Will Soza, chairman of Security One Bank.

Hispanic business owners are taking steps to reach outside their comfort zone — Hispanic customers — to gain market share in the general community, said Tony Howard, vice president of communications at the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, where interest from Hispanic business owners is high.

“You limit the amount of opportunity unless you reach outside that comfort zone and really actively assimilate your business activities to the outside community,” Mr. Howard said.

More than one-third of Hispanic-owned businesses are in the retail industry, followed by construction and manufacturing.

Mr. Restrepo, 44, says his market analysis and research firm reflects a trend: more Hispanic-owned professional services companies.

“Years ago during the first wave of Hispanic-owned businesses, they were all in construction and the trades,” he said.

Mr. Restrepo attributes the increase in Hispanic-owned professional firms to the large number of Nicaraguans and El Salvadorans who fled to the United States during civil war in the late 1970s. The children of those immigrants went to college and now are opening law firms, technology firms and other professional businesses, he said.

First-generation immigrants have founded or are in restaurants, shops or construction and landscape companies, he said. Second-generation immigrants have more technology or managerial experience.

Nearly half of Hispanic-owned companies across the country are owned by people of Mexican or Chicano descent. Puerto Ricans and Cubans own 7 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of the Hispanic-owned companies. Spanish and other Hispanic people own the remaining 38 percent.

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