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Hispanic Business Communities growing quickly in Washington

A study funded by the Greater Washington Ibero American Chamber of Commerce, found that the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the region has grown to 32,000 in 2002 from about 500 in 1970. The surge began in the 1980s after Hispanic immigrants fleeing El Salvador's civil war poured into the area and has increased as more Central American immigrants have moved here to join their families.

The largest group, Salvadorans, have started about 3,000 small family-run businesses -- restaurants, construction companies and retail stores -- in the Washington area, said Elmer Arias, president of the region's Salvadoran American Chamber of Commerce and owner of La Hacienda restaurant in Springfield. At first, these businesses were concentrated in the Adams Morgan area, but as immigrants saved money and moved out to the suburbs, businesses followed.

Now bustling centers of Hispanic commerce can be found in Langley Park, Wheaton, Bailey's Crossroads, Woodbridge, Manassas, Fredericksburg, Arlandria and at least a dozen other communities and neighborhoods. Latino-owned businesses have changed the face of many neighborhoods, as Hispanic mom-and-pop stores have filled once-abandoned buildings and brought commerce back to some neighborhoods.

The flood of immigrant business owners from Latin America was preceded by a smaller number of Hispanics who came to the area in the early 1960s and 1970s to work for the federal government. Veve said Hispanic businesses gravitated toward government procurement because of the federal program that sets aside business for minority-owned companies.

This led to the creation of scores of Hispanic-owned contracting companies, including MVM Inc., a Vienna-based company that provides guards and other security services and reported revenue of $164 million last year, and computer network developer Force 3 Inc., which reported revenue of $168 million. Soza & Co., a government information technology company founded by Hispanic Fairfax businessman William Soza, had more than $137 million in revenue when it was sold last year to Perot Systems Government Services Inc. for $107 million in cash and stock.

There are 38.8 million Hispanics in the United States, or 13 percent of the total population, making the group the largest minority in the country. In the Washington area, from 1990 to 2000, the Hispanic community doubled, to 447,000, or 8 percent of the total population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Latino advocates say the number is even higher, because the government failed to count some illegal immigrants.

"If you look at what's happened in the population across the country since 1990, it has grown more than 73 percent. That's explosive growth. Those sheer numbers are fueling most of the business growth," said Judi Erickson, a Hispanic Business magazine editor, citing figures from HispanTelligence, a research group owned by the magazine. "What you're seeing in D.C. is what you're seeing in other areas across the county. Los Angeles and New York have long had concentrations of Hispanic businesses. Now what we're seeing is an entrepreneurial trend going across the county."

By 1997, the last time the Census Bureau measured it, Washington area Hispanic businesses had sales of nearly $1 billion. Hispanic business leaders say that substantial growth has occurred since then.

These changes can be measured in a number of different ways. For example, the growth of advertising and clasificados aimed at Latinos here now supports nearly two dozen weekly newspapers, a dozen radio stations and three local television channels. Twenty years ago there were only a couple of weekly Spanish-language television shows, one radio station and three newspapers.

Source: The Washington Post

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