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As Latinos Fan Out Across U.S., Businesses Follow The Migration… More Harrisburg, Pa., Firms Cater To Hispanic Population, Some Attract Non-Latinos, Too

As Latinos Fan Out Across U.S., Businesses Follow The Migration


November 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. All rights reserved.

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Phyllis Bancroft and Jose Luis Villegas dreamed of owning their own TV station. So three years ago, after quitting their jobs working on the evening news at Spanish-language TV network Telemundo in Hartford, Conn., they sold their possessions and set out to find an untapped Latino market they could mine.

"We wanted a place where Latinos weren't served yet," says Ms. Bancroft, 44 years old.

"We looked in Anchorage, in Honolulu, in Flagstaff, Arizona," adds Mr. Villegas, 39.

Nothing seemed to work, until they happened upon a TV station for sale in, of all places, Charleston, S.C., where they found an unlikely Hispanic hub emerging among ancient oaks draped with Spanish moss. They looked at census data and asked around, and they discovered that the local Latino population had been surging for years. Ms. Bancroft now estimates the local Latino population served by the TV station at 45,000 people.

Last May, Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Villegas took their station to the airwaves as an affiliate of Telefutura, the new Spanish-language network of Los Angeles-based Univision Communications Inc. Theirs was the first Spanish-language station in a TV market ranked 131st in the nation in terms of number of Hispanic viewers.

The two friends and business partners are part of a growing number of businesses and entrepreneurs pursuing Hispanic consumers as they fan out across America from such established enclaves as California, Texas and New York. More and more immigrants from Latin America are pursuing plentiful jobs in meatpacking plants in Nebraska, poultry farms in Arkansas, fish-processing factories in Alaska and in construction and agriculture in South Carolina and many other states.

As their numbers grow in these budding enclaves, so does their spending. Latino disposable income nationwide has grown 160% since 1990, to $580 billion, according to a study by the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. In Tennessee, by contrast, it swelled sevenfold to $3.2 billion in the same period. In Iowa, the amount quintupled to $1.5 billion, and in Delaware, it quadrupled to $700 million.

Lured by these numbers, businesses and entrepreneurs are rushing in. Overcoming language barriers and other hurdles, many are thriving. In Torrington, Wyo., local radio stations broadcast Spanish-language shows. In Idaho, readers can pick up Idaho Unido, an English-Spanish newspaper published every two weeks. In Fort Smith, Ark., Tortilleria Puebla sells nearly all of its tortillas to Hispanics. And in Tennesssee, pork producers have formed a cooperative aimed at selling pig carcasses to Hispanic meat markets across the state.

"We get two or three calls a week from people looking for bilingual people," says Ed Gumucio, a Bolivian immigrant who in March 2000 launched a service in Smyrna, Tenn., to train staff at local hospitals, banks and other companies to communicate with Spanish-speaking workers and customers. Business, he says, is thriving.

South Carolina's job market has been pulling in Hispanic laborers for more than a decade, some arriving from other U.S. states and others directly from Latin America. Mainly of Mexican origin, they have evolved from a migrant farm-worker group that swelled during the harvest season to a more permanent community with families and children in school.

Purchasing Power

Based on census data, the number of Hispanics in South Carolina more than tripled between 1990 and 2000, to about 95,000, or 2.4% of the state's total population. The Selig Center, extrapolating from 1990 census data on income, estimates that Hispanic purchasing power in the state has sextupled over the past 12 years, reaching $2.2 billion this year.

The state's Latino population continues to surge, though, as Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Villegas found in Charleston, precise numbers are hard to come by. To get an idea, they contacted the local chamber of commerce and visited nuns at a community outreach center. They asked the local police about Latino arrests. Ms. Bancroft had an "off the record" chat with a Census Bureau officer who, she says, admitted that Hispanics were undercounted because many illegal immigrants weren't tallied. Her estimate of 45,000 Latinos in the TV station's coverage area is about three times the number the Census Bureau counted two years ago.

Hispanics are in evidence throughout Charleston's suburbs -- from the Spanish chatter heard in the trailer camps behind Ashley Phosphate Road to the workers on the suburban golf courses of Mount Pleasant to the tomato pickers on nearby John's Island. Sunday Mass in Spanish at Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church is standing-room only. Men in cowboy boots and hats and sporting colossal belt buckles flock to the International Discotec to dance to the polka-like tunes of Los Terribles from Mexico and Grupo Misterio from nearby Myrtle Beach, S.C.

All this activity speaks to a flourishing Hispanic economy. Alberto Moreno, an immigrant from Mexico's northern state of Jalisco, makes a killing dispensing tacos from a trailer parked by the Amoco station off Ashley Phosphate Road. He says he paid off his trailer in four months, netting $2,500 to $3,000 per weekend, and he's itching to buy another.

A few blocks up Ashley Phosphate is Los Puentes, a Hispanic market where local Latinos can send money home, buy airline tickets and phone cards, and stock up on bull testicles, lard and statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Norma Jimenez, an Argentine immigrant who opened the store in early 2001, says sales reached $90,000 a month by the end of the first year. She says she executes 2,500 to 3,000 money transfers a month. Since launching the Charleston store, she has opened three more, in John's Island, Columbia and Rock Hill.

Some Anglo businesses in town are catching on. A formerly "oldies" AM radio station was flipped into Spanish a year and a half ago. Randy Withers, who owns a business that manufactures plantation shutters, last year launched Charleston's first Spanish-language newspaper, Vida Latina (Latino Life), after noticing that most of his work force was from Mexico and Guatemala. About a year ago, retailer Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. began stocking Mexican products in its local grocery stores, including Jarritos soda pop and Maizena corn-flour drink mix. Last summer, the Charleston Battery soccer club tried to attract Mexicans by hosting a friendly match against the Mexican first division team Puebla.

Even a local politician made a play for Hispanic support. Charlie Smith, a real-estate agent who earlier this month sought a seat in the state legislature, actively courted the Latino vote with a TV ad inviting local Latinos, in broken Spanish, to a lunch of chicken, rice and beans. (He lost.)

Auto makers, food companies and other big national advertisers don't have to seek out pockets like the one in Charleston. They buy time on a nationwide network such as Telefutura, and when a local affiliate begins broadcasting, their ads reach the intended audience. And they are interested in reaching new audiences. In fact, it was through General Motors Corp. that Charleston's local McElveen GM dealership got the idea to take a stab at Hispanic advertising earlier this year.

"GM urged us to look at our local Hispanic market," says Doug McElveen. It translated one of its regular TV spots into Spanish and ran it for 90 days on the English-language CBS affiliate. The locals were so startled when that ad first appeared that the effort was at the top of the evening news. "They're getting a good response -- from curious English-speaking customers," said an amused reporter.

For all the promise, it's still a struggle for mainstream Charleston businesses to sell to the budding Hispanic market. "It would take a big population to justify advertising on TV," says Robert Masche, vice president of retail operations for Piggly Wiggly Carolina. "I'm not sure there's enough yet to warrant that expenditure, though we've got to keep a tab on that."

Language Barrier

Some businesses ignore Charleston's emerging market, arguing that Latinos have little money and send much of what they do have back home to Latin America. Others haven't courted Latinos because they lack the staff to deal with customers who don't speak English. "We've been trying for months to get a bilingual sales person," says Richard Cooper of Charleston's local Ford dealership, Jones Ford. "We're not set up to handle these people."

Language is considered such a barrier that, to draw advertisers, the new Spanish-language AM station aired a job-mart program to recruit Spanish-speaking staff for potential advertisers. "Last week we found a person for a mobile home dealer," says Cliff Fletcher, who runs the station. "Many people want to tap the Hispanic market but don't know how."

After arriving in town two years ago, Mr. Villegas and Ms. Bancroft faced skeptical local financiers who doubted that a Latino audience could provide for a sound business plan. Eleven banks turned them down, including Bank of America. "I told the manager, 'You have the 'creemos en ti' [we believe in you] program to attract Hispanic consumers,' " says Ms. Bancroft, referring to a nationwide Bank of America campaign earlier this year to attract Hispanic customers. "But it was probably news to him."

Despite the many obstacles, South Coast Community Bank was eventually willing to finance Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Villegas in their TV venture. The chief lending officer was inclined to approve the loan because he had some experience with the Hispanic market. Among other things, he says, his son supervises Hispanic gardeners at a local golf course and he once financed a Dominican chiropractor.

Ever since WJEA Telefutura went on the air on May 6, Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Villegas have been pitching the story about Hispanics' growing purchasing power to local companies. They are also producing a Latino concert in December that they hope will boost their station's profile.

They are getting used to delivering primers on Hispanic marketing. One overcast afternoon last month, the message was pared down to the basics as they made their pitch to Derek Sharrer, general manager of the local baseball team, the Riverdogs. "In Mexico, it's more soccer. But Caribbean people like baseball," Mr. Villegas explained to Mr. Sharrer in the Riverdogs' stadium. "Colombians from the Coast, Venezuelans, Dominicans, they love it."

Mr. Sharrer was sympathetic. He once promoted a mariachi concert, he said, and has childhood memories of a morning show that featured the Puerto Rican boy band Menudo. Ultimately, he said, the Riverdogs would love to develop a Hispanic fan base to watch their games.

Mr. Sharrer rejected WJEA's initial proposal: a package to sponsor both the news and a family show that would feature an English lesson tentatively titled "R Is for Riverdog." But he liked the idea of promoting a "Cinco de Mayo" concert around the Mexican holiday. A second concert-plus-ballgame combo around Independence Day could stress a patriotic theme, with an immigration lawyer giving advice to fans about legal residence and citizenship.

In the end, Ms. Bancroft and Mr. Villegas came away with a small commitment to sponsor the December concert. Mr. Sharrer, for his part, was excited by the prospects for a Hispanic alter ego to the Riverdogs' mascot: "We could call Charlie the Riverdog, Carlos the Riverdog!"

More Harrisburg, Pa., Firms Cater To Hispanic Population

By Diana Fishlock, The Patriot-News, Harrisburg, Pa.

December 16, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PATRIOT NEWS, HARRISBURG, PA. All rights reserved.

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. AHO

Dec. 16-They're young, they've got money to spend, and they still barely register on the radar of some businesses.

Hispanics' purchasing power was nearly $500 billion in 2001 and is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2010, since it's growing three times as fast as that of non-Latino Caucasians, according to "Hispanics Today: Leaders of the New Millennium" by TransWorld Inc.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing consumer segment and comprised 13.6 percent of the teenage population in 2001, which adds up to 4.3 million young consumers with an estimated spending budget of $20 billion.

Although the midstate's approximately 31,000 Hispanics are small papas compared to Los Angeles or New York, the Hispanic population in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry and York counties has doubled since 1990, according to U.S. Census data.

That means not only more frijoles and fiestas, but more cars, homes, haircuts and checking accounts. Some midstate businesses are reaching out to the Latino market. They're hiring bilingual staff, advertising in Spanish as well as English, carrying products Latinos might want to buy and joining Latino organizations to make contact.

"People are taking a look at Hispanics and realizing how important [we] are as a group," said Balbina Caldwell of Mechanicsburg, 32, a Spanish professor at Messiah College. "We're interested in the community and voting, so more people are paying attention to us. We're hardworking, and discretionary income is increasing, so more businesses are paying attention to us."

James A. Stoudt, president of One World Recruiters in Camp Hill, which matches companies with bilingual professionals, noted that Hispanics' wealth is increasing as they get better jobs.

"Latino wealth is such an untapped marketplace," Stoudt said. "Central Pennsylvania is a very conservative area and the mainstream employers are just starting to realize the need for Latino employees."

Meanwhile, some small area businesses are already tapping into the market.

Lance Ulen, owner of Hooper Memorial Home in Susquehanna Twp., first worked with a Latino family when a friend married a Latina, then someone in her family died several years ago, Ulen said.

Ulen has hired Patricia Vargas Golden, a bilingual administrative assistant who can communicate with Latino clients and translate brochures and legal forms into Spanish.

"Because of the increase in Hispanics, I need to be more sensitive," he said. "If you're going to do a full-service business, then you need to serve the whole community."

Allfirst Bank has the same philosophy.

Allfirst has been reaching out to the midstate's Latino community for several years, said Thomas C. Bell, senior vice president.

He's joined several Hispanic organizations and serves on the boards of some.

"I go to meetings and say, 'I have a program I think might help Mrs. Rodriguez,' or whatever. It's not so much advertising, but being there," Bell said.

The bank has hired more bilingual tellers at many branches, translated brochures and developed programs in Spanish to teach people about credit, applying for a loan or securing a mortgage.

"We've budgeted for bilingual ATMs in Spanish, concentrated in areas with major Hispanic population," said Bell.

The bank sometimes partners with a nonprofit organization to help low-income people save money for a car or an individual retirement account by putting away a minimum of $10 a week with a match from the state government, he said.

Allfirst also was a founding member of the year-old Pennsylvania Latino Chamber of Commerce.

"We work together to try to develop products, economic empowerment seminars, making monies available to Latinos that have been there for 100 years, but no one's ever approached them," Bell said. "... They have been banking, but maybe they have been banking someplace that wouldn't loan them money for theirbusiness. That's where the need is.

"The great thing is, that little mom-and-pop grocery store has probably been there for 30 years, so they're doing something right. They may need it to fix up the facade of the store or get an addition or just for capital."

Giant Food Stores has been marketing to ethnic groups, including Latinos, for about 4 1/2 years, officials said.

"Giant recognized that if we didn't market to them we'd be at a disadvantage," said Denny Hopkins, vice president of advertising and sales development.

While Caucasian and black population growth is flatter, the Hispanic and Asian populations are growing quickly, said Deborah Vereen, Giant's director of organizational effectiveness and diversity.

"Until we started doing the research, we did not realize how much the demographics had changed," she said.

The Carlisle-based supermarket chain has begun advertising in Spanish in Lancaster and Allentown, hiring bilingual staff, using bilingual signs in stores and carrying more Hispanic products, according to company officials.

Giant has added Goya products, frozen foods, health and beauty aids, seafood and dairy products in Lancaster and Allentown, and will do so in Harrisburg, Vereen said. The chain has added more produce to attract Latinos, including bread fruit, jicama, passion fruit, sour oranges, yucca, tamarindo and more types of bananas, peppers and coconut.

"They're very health conscious, and they cook a lot from scratch," Vereen said.

With businesses catching on to the importance of reaching out to Latinos, this is a golden time to be a Latino looking for work, especially at the entry level with an eye to moving up within a company, said Stoudt of One World Recruiters.

"It's fantastic. It's just on the front end of it," Stoudt said. "The major movement is still probably a year away, but it's catching on."

Some Hispanic Businesses Attract Non-Latinos, Too


Yuca, platanos, malanga and yautia line the produce shelves. Twenty-pound bags of rice are stacked high against one wall. Goat meat, smoked herring and salted pigs feet rest beside Oscar Mayer Lunchables.

This is not your mama's convenience store.

Jay's Mini Market in Lebanon may seem exotic to some, but to its mostly Hispanic customers, it's a taste of home.

Area Hispanic-owned business offer customers more than a bilingual shopping experience. The business owners understand Hispanic culture, values and lifestyles.

The 1.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United Stats employed more than 1.3 million people and generated $186.3 billion in revenues in 1997, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In central Pennsylvania, Latinos own not just restaurants and bodegas, but law firms, car dealerships, Web site design firms and more. While some thought their customers would be mostly Hispanic, some are attracting a sizable non-Hispanic customer base, too.

"All things being equal, they feel more comfortable dealing with people who are bilingual or bicultural or both," Samuel Rivera said of his Hispanic law clients, who make up about a third of his practice. "It's tough to find Spanish-speaking attorneys, and there's a demand."

Clients feel more comfortable dealing with a bilingual lawyer than having to speak through an interpreter, he said. He has information and legal documents in both languages at his Harrisburg practice.

"The consultations are in Spanish if that's what they desire," Rivera said.

Understanding Hispanic culture plays a big role in Julio Pena's work. He and his wife, Cathy, own Exact Communication, an interpreting and translating business. Sometimes one word can make all the difference, he said.

"One time, I was on a hearing and the gentleman being deposed was from Cuba," Julio Pena remembered. A lawyer was asking the man how many weeks pregnant his wife was when something occurred. "He couldn't come up with weeks because, in the Latin world, we deal with months. Things like that you have to tell your client because it's part of the culture."

Only 10 percent to 15 percent of the Penas' clients are Hispanic, but that number is growing as the population booms. The midstate's Hispanic population doubled between 1990 and 2000, according to U.S. Census data.

The Penas, who use more than 50 interpreters and translators, have translated business, government, legal, medical, insurance and human resources documents into Vietnamese, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish and more exotic languages since they opened their Palmyra business in 1995, they said.

The owners of 2 Guys Bakery thought most of their customers would be Hispanic when they opened in Lebanon in February, said Edelmira Gonzalez, who owns the bakery with her brother, Augustine Melendez, and their spouses.

Their customers - 60 percent Anglo, 40 percent Hispanic - travel from Lancaster, Allentown, Reading and New York for flan, guava puffs, quesito - a sweet cheese turnover with honey glaze, and for non-Hispanic desserts such as Napoleons, eclairs and pies, Gonzalez said.

"They want us to move. 'Why don't you move to Harrisburg? You could make more dinero [money],' " Gonzalez said, mimicking her customers. "No, this is my town."

The owners of Puertorican Paradise Restaurant found 75 percent of their customers aren't Hispanic, they said.

"We were surprised it's mostly white people," said Leticia Perez, who opened the restaurant July 4 with Isabel and Pedro Rojas. "We explain how we make the food. Most Anglos love it. It's new, but they like the experience of trying something new."

Ruben Vazquez, who bought Bob's Auto Exchange in Harrisburg almost eight years ago, said a recent trip gave him a new appreciation for his ability to speak two languages.

"I've gone to Venezuela, Mexico and Puerto Rico," he said. "This year I went to Germany, and it was the first time I realized what other people go through. Not being able to understand the language gave me an appreciation for my language. It put me on the other side."

Now he appreciates why Latino customers are glad he speaks Spanish, he said.

"It's always a more comfortable atmosphere for them," he said.

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