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Orlando Sentinel

Hispanics Lead New Boom

By Maria T. Padilla

March 23, 2001
Copyright © 2001 Orlando Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.


Photo: Minority Businesses


Black and Hispanic entrepreneurs outpaced the rest of the nation in the creation of new businesses in the 1990s, a trend reflecting the growing influence of minorities in the United States.

Central Florida spawned its own boomlet, with Hispanic businesses leading the way and Puerto Rican firms showing significant increases.

Census data released Thursday show the number of Hispanic businesses jumped 30 percent to 1.1 million nationwide, generating sales of $114 billion.

Black firms totaled 780,770, up 26 percent, with sales of $42.7 billion.

For the nation, the total number of businesses rose 7 percent to 18.4 million, with sales totaling $4.66 trillion.

The Central Florida trend reflects census analyses indicating that Hispanic firms are fueling much of the expansion in minority-owned businesses.

"Hispanic firms are growing quite a bit faster and, of course, the population is growing quite a bit faster for Hispanics," said Eddie Salyers, chief of the Economic Census branch.

Among the new Hispanic firms is Best Choice, an auto dealer based in Longwood owned by Frankie and Lizy Munoz,who are Puerto Rican.

Taking a chance, winning

Frankie Munoz was working for a wholesale auto business when he decided to branch out five years ago. Today, Best Choice employs six full-time workers and last year expanded into auto retailing.

"Five years ago we decided to go independent; we can’t complain," said Lizy Munoz, vice president.

The Munozes’ business decision helped push the number of Hispanic firms in Florida to nearly 194,000, and sales reached $35.4 billion. Florida ranked third in the nation for Hispanic businesses, unchanged from the previous census.

Central Florida Hispanic businesses totaled more than 12,000, with sales topping $960 million.

And for the first time in Central Florida, Puerto Ricans accounted for the bulk of Hispanic businesses -- 23 percent -- edging out Cubans, who made up 15 percent of Hispanic business owners. The change is significant because Cubans have been here longer and had more businesses in 1992, the last time such data were gathered.

In fact, the number of Cuban-owned businesses in Central Florida fell 4 percent from the previous census, although their sales tend to be higher. Mexicans are creating businesses at the fastest pace, accounting for nearly 1,000 firms, data show.

Data collected 4 years ago

The Economic Census, which is conducted every five years, reflects data collected in 1997. Information on minority businesses is among the last data to be released from that survey.

Figures for Asian-American businesses weren’t released Thursday. But earlier studies have shown that Asian-owned businesses are the most successful, generating the most sales and employing the most workers. Many are involved in exporting.

Among black businesses, the trend is toward more businesses, but growth is not keeping up with that of other minority groups.

"African-American-owned businesses suggests some lag, and they’re not really catching up either," Salyers said.

The number of black-owned businesses in Florida was 59,732, while sales were $4.1 billion. Black firms in Central Florida accounted for nearly 10 percent of the state total. There were 5,799 firms, with sales of $457.7 million.

Service and retail firms predominated among Hispanic and black businesses.

Blacks express concern

Len Burnett, chairman of the African American chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, is concerned about black businesses.

"It’s people working out of their homes, and a lot of it is underground," said Burnett, who is a partner in Keys Gift Shop at Orlando International Airport. The shop generates $3 million in annual sales, making it a notable exception among black firms.

National experts also have sounded the alarm. "For all the progress made, the economic future of black businesses in an increasingly multicultural America doesn’t look good," stated Juliet E.K. Walker in The State of Black America 2000, published by the National Urban League.

Burnett thinks black corporate employees need to think more like entrepreneurs, spinning off their own firms. He also encouraged blacks to enter high-technology fields.

However, comparisons with the 1992 Economic Census are difficult because the Census Bureau changed how it counts minority businesses.

Bigger picture emerges

In the 1992 Economic Census, so-called C corporations, which tend to be larger companies with higher revenue, were excluded from the tally.

The numbers released Thursday include C corporations -- except for national comparisons.

The difference in the two numbers is significant. The addition of C corporations boosted total Hispanic firms to 1.2 million nationwide, and expanded sales by 63 percent to $186 billion.

Black businesses totaled 823,500 and sales jumped by 66 percent to $72.1 billion.

Minority business groups lobbied the Census Bureau to include C corporations, saying its count of minority businesses wasn’t accurate.

Although the census made the change, that hasn’t quieted complaints.

The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce based in Washington thinks the number of Hispanic firms is higher than the count reflects.

The census "reflects an undercount," said spokeswoman Maria Ibanez. The national chamber pointed to higher Small Business Administration estimates released last year. Those numbers led the chamber to predict that Hispanic businesses would number 2 million with sales of more than $500 billion by now.

Last year, the SBA said there were 1.4 million Hispanic businesses with sales of $189 billion.

Black businesses totaled 881,646, while sales were $59.3 billion, according to the SBA.

However, Salyers stuck by the census numbers, saying the data represented an actual count of the nation’s minority-owned businesses.

"The SBA numbers were projections which used older census data. These are actual survey data," he said.

Maria Padilla can be reached at or 407-420-5162.

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