|Latina Entrepreneurship and Business Ownership in Los Angeles
By Christine BolaÃ±os
Photo by Robert Landau/LACVB.
Los Angeles, California is a world leader in business, entertainment, international trade, media, fashion, science, sports, technology and education and has what some experts say is the highest concentration of Latina-owned businesses in the country. The explosion of businesses run by Latina entrepreneurs is a direct result of having one of the highest populations in the entire country, second only to New York City.
According to the U.S. Census, California boasted 36.3 million residents in 2010 with 13.6 million of those people classified as Hispanics. This means that in 2010, Hispanics made up 37.7 percent of the state’s total population. Latinos are expected to grow to 15 million this year.
Los Angeles County is expected to be home to 8 million Hispanics this year. With their population continuing to skyrocket, Hispanics are naturally, opening their own businesses at a higher rate than ever before and in a variety of sectors. According to the U.S. Hispanic Business Census, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in California increased from 424,724 to 566,436 from 2002 to 2007.
The Institute for Organization Training & Development —a national association of Hispanic entrepreneurs and individuals interested in strengthening the Hispanic business community—and World Demographic Research LLC estimate that Hispanic-owned businesses in California will reach close to 725,000 this year.
In Los Angeles County, Latino businesses rose from 188,472 in 2002 to 225,757 in 2007. World Demographic Research and IOTD Hispanic Research Center project that Hispanic businesses in the county will reach 265,000 in 2012.
The Census does not break down ethnic businesses by gender except at the national level but experts believe the impact of Latinas though not tracked down by the numbers, are visible through the diversity of the businesses they run.
“Latinas constitute the fastest-growing segment of the small-business arena. They are pioneers in their industries, stimulating local economies and spearheading community development initiatives,” says Cecilia Mota, former president of the National Latina Business Women Association and managing partner of group Mujersisimas.
Latina-owned businesses are everywhere Mota goes.
“It is safe to say that the large majority of family-owned and newly established restaurants in the area are run by a Latina. You walk down any major street in the heart of the commercial districts of East LA, Boyle Heights, South Gate, McArthur Park, Montebello, Lynwood just to name a few and you find vibrant communities of Latino/Latina owned enterprises like music stores, mini markets/convenience stores, tamalerias, pupuserias, panaderias, service industry related, apparel and beauty shops, remesas, librerias cristianas, print shops and the list goes on,” Mota adds.
“This historical and explosive growth of Latino owned businesses continues to demonstrate the growing demand, economic power, the connection, need, and influence for all things Latino, giving us a glimpse of what the rest of Los Angeles may look like in another 15 years when a larger wave of Latino graduates will either take over their families business and open additional locations or follow the road toward entrepreneurship,” she believes.
In a city with such a high concentration of Latinos, Jesse Torres, regional director of the Los Angeles Small Business Development Center Network states more research needs to be done specifically on Latina business owners and entrepreneurs. According to a presentation he made recently using Census data, the main psychological motivation behind business startups is that the founders desire to work for themselves and to be in control of their lives.
Due to a lack of studies on Latinas and the uncertainty of the November presidential elections, which will affect the city’s political and economic climate, Torres says it is hard to predict how many more Latinas will open their own businesses in the coming years and in what sectors.
He imagines an overall growth in businesses and jobs related to transportation and construction that will be needed as a result of the infrastructure going on in Los Angeles, particularly the high speed rail projects.
“There really isn’t a strong program or effort to really support Latina entrepreneurship and small businesses. Either way, [the impact] is significant,” Torres continues, adding he hopes younger Latinos will venture into online businesses and take advantage of the opportunities in the cyber world.
Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas believes Latinas are playing a larger role in the city’s economy year by year. “There is a wide diversity of Latina businesses, whether in technical fields or in retail markets, there is evidence of Latinas having businesses,” Cardenas says. “Successful Latinas are always helping out with the younger crowd, always mentoring them. I always really enjoy that about the Latino community; how much we do past the business to help other generations.”
One barrier that Latinas are working to break down is the prejudice they sometimes experience as new business owners because they are a minority, women and Latinas. “We need to encourage people to recognize them as equals as we see more Latino and Latina businesses and prove that they are phenomenal,” Cardenas adds.
Betty Rengifo Uribe, executive vice president and head of the business and personal banking division at California Bank & Trust believes that Latinas have a huge advantage in that they see the value of networking with each other. “There’s always an element of cooperation and I think because of that, probably one Latina will influence several others to grow other businesses and that helps foster the economy,” she states.
Jorge Corralejo, chair and CEO of the Latino Business Chamber of Commerce of Greater Los Angeles, considers the city the small business capital of the world and believes the largest portion of these businesses to be run by Latinos.
From Taco Nazo—which Maria and Gilberto Romero began as a lunch truck serving fish and shrimp tacos in 1978 and grew to an actual restaurant that boasts “the best fish tacos in California”—to Maria Contreras-Sweet, the executive chairwoman and founder of Proamerica Bank, a commercial bank focused on businesses that specialize in Latinos, successful Latinas “are all over the place,” he says.
Photo by John Paul "Boomer" Iacoangelo/LACVB.
Amid their many successes, Latina business owners still have hurdles to overcome, says Los Angeles City Controller Wendy Greuel.
“In my recent audit of Los Angeles City’s Minority, Women and Other Business Enterprise Contracting Program, I found that the city currently has a two-year backlog of certification requests for women and minority-owned businesses, causing small businesses to lose out on as much as $100 million in contracts they couldn’t compete for. This is unacceptable and steps must be taken immediately to address this issue,” Greuel says.
She believes stronger city wide awareness, networking and mentoring efforts could be the key.
Based on a speech he gave upon receiving an honorary doctoral degree from The National Hispanic University, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa believes education could be another key. “There is a need both in California and nationally for educators and professionals who are specialized in supporting the growing Hispanic community…the University has an opportunity to support the success of learners beyond the San Jose community and to prepare them to meet the needs of multicultural communities.”
San Francisco has also taken note of the impact of Hispanics, specifically Latinas, on the city’s economy.
“Entrepreneurial spirit drives ideas in San Francisco, the innovation capital of the world. The longstanding Latina community in San Francisco is an integral part of our economic success. As part of an ongoing effort to improve our business community and bolster San Francisco’s local economy, the city joined with the Hispanic Heritage Foundation to introduce top emerging Latino and Latina professionals to San Francisco Bay Area companies. Supporting and investing in San Francisco businesses means encouraging diversity in the workplace – a tradition integral to the success of our local economy and our residents,” says San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
The San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont metro area is home to 41,207 Hispanic firms accounting for 6.6 percent of all businesses, according to the 2007 Survey of Business Owners.
The effect of Latinas throughout major California cities is palpable.
“In Los Angeles, Latinas hold some of the most important leadership roles within the business community,” says Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Gary Toebben. “Our board of directors include seven Latinas with major responsibilities at companies within the banking, transportation, utility and real estate industries, and that’s just a sample of the impact they have.”
Betty Rengifo Uribe.
LA City Controller, Wendy Greuel.
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.
LAâ€ˆMayor Antonio Villaraigosa.