AABP Award 728x90

Hispanic businesses growing in Iowa


For more than a decade, jobs in meatpacking plants, as seasonal farm workers and in other blue-collar sectors have beckoned immigrants of Hispanic origin to Iowa in numbers large enough to make them the largest minority group in the state. Increasingly, they’re becoming entrepreneurs, starting small businesses to serve the approximately 82,500 Iowans of Hispanic origin counted in the 2000 census.

The number of Hispanic residents increased 152 percent between the 1990 and 2000 U.S. Census Bureau head counts, and the group now account for 2.8 percent of Iowa’s population. Elizabeth Salinas Newby, administrator of the Commission on Latino Affairs, part of the Iowa Department of Human Rights, thinks the number has risen even higher in the past two and a half years.

“If there’s a need for Latino services and products, businesses will spring up pretty quickly,” Newby said. “Some of these folks who come here to work and settle used to have businesses and they’re quick to see the need.”

For example, there were once only a couple of grocery stores catering to Hispanic populations in Greater Des Moines, she said. Now, there are multiple ethnic markets in the city, and towns such as Marshalltown, Perry, Columbus Junction, Storm Lake, Sioux City, West Liberty, Cherokee and Postville, where large Hispanic populations are concentrated, are seeing a plethora of Hispanic-owned businesses.

To help them work through a labyrinth of business laws and regulations and to help non-Hispanic-owned companies tap into this burgeoning market, José Laracuente founded the Iowa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce three years ago. Laracuente, born in Costa Rico and owner of Ankeny-based DMI Computer Technologies, said Iowa’s newest residents are typical of the immigrant story in the United States.

“For the first generation, it’s a little rougher,” said Laracuente, who moved to Iowa in 1996 from Washington, D.C., where he had held jobs with the U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. “The second generation is more established and more willing to take a chance by starting businesses. They’re bilingual, and at the same time, they’re becoming more assimilated in the business economy.”

There are barriers to minority business ownership, especially for immigrants, Newby said. “The biggest, of course, is money,” she said. “They don’t really know where to get loans.”

The IHCC tries to connect entrepreneurs with sources of financing, such as programs assisting minority business owners available through the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Iowa Department of Economic Development and traditional sources. Equally difficult for some minority business owners is sifting through the reams of paperwork required, Newby said, because agencies such as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and others regulating businesses don’t exist in many of their homelands.

Nannette Rodriguez, owner of viva! communications and acting president of the IHCC, said growth of the business group has been slow. “Hispanic business owners, like others, are tending to their businesses and don’t have time to participate in networking activities,” she said. “The majority of businesses want to concentrate on making profits.”

The majority of Hispanic-owned businesses are in the service sector, and their proprietors may not see the value of membership in a business group, whether it’s the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce or the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Rodriguez said.

Laracuente said the IHCC can help Hispanics eager to own their own businesses develop business plans and lay the groundwork necessary to attract investors. “You have to have a business plan,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, but you have to have some idea of your market, your potential customers and how to finance it.”

He also tells those he mentors that running a successful business isn’t easy. “It’s hard work and you have to stay focused on what you are doing and be able to juggle a lot of balls in the air at the same time,” Laracuente said. “If you’re going to go for it, you have to be 100 percent committed.”

Even those who are working to strengthen the voice of Hispanic-owned businesses in Iowa say it’s difficult to pin down numbers on how quickly that segment of the economy is growing. The results of the latest U.S. Economic Census, conducted last year, won’t be released until 2004.

The results of the 1997 Economic Census showed there were 1,343 Hispanic-owned businesses in Iowa, 298 of them in Greater Des Moines. Of the metro-area businesses, 118 of them were in service industries; 44 were in the construction industry; 40 were in retail trade; 22 of them were in finance, insurance and real estate; eight were in wholesale trade; and two were in manufacturing. Sixty-five of the businesses were not classified.

The breakdown by industry of Hispanic-owned business trends in Greater Des Moines generally mirrored that of the entire state. According to the 1997 Economic Census, service-oriented businesses were by far the most prevalent, with 526 such businesses in Iowa. There were 108 Hispanic-owned construction businesses and 288 retail establishments across the state. A breakdown of the retail businesses showed that 120 of them were in the food and beverage industry.

dentons brweb 090123 300x250