There are now 116,000 Hispanic-owned businesses in the Garden State, according to a recent report for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
That number surprised the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, which has consistently held the number at “more than 80,000.”
The report, released by business intelligence firm Geoscape in October, also found that Hispanic businesses are growing at 2.5 times the rate of all U.S. firms, and contributed about $668 billion in revenue to the national economy.
In New Jersey, that number was roughly $12 billion, according to previous SHCC numbers.
The reason for the astounding growth?
Carlos Medina, chairman of the SHCC, said there is a high entrepreneurial spirit within the Hispanic community.
“Many immigrants that come here from other countries, that are … overqualified for a job they are doing, would rather take a chance and become an entrepreneur in a similar or field they have a skill set in,” Medina said. “They may have skills that don’t translate onto a traditional resume, or an employer might be reluctant to hire them because of their language or cultural reasons.”
Essentially, when skilled workers couldn’t find work in the industries they came from in their home country — because their licenses and certifications weren’t accepted in the U.S. — or if they simply didn’t have the skills for any jobs that were available, they often threw their hat into the entrepreneurial ring.
While that strategy continues to take hold with new immigrants, there is also a growing assimilated Latino generation that is entering the entrepreneurial vein with their own skilled ventures.
Mario Camino, a real estate investor and developer, and CEO of arkad GROUP, has watched that happen over the past 16 years.
“The growth has been extraordinary and, for some of us in the forefront, very palpable. I’ve been in the real estate industry since age 19, I am 35 now, and I have been lucky enough to witness and be part of a movement,” he said.
Camino has taken his profit from building large residences in wealthier neighborhoods like upper Union and Morris counties to flip blighted properties and make them affordable residences in areas like Plainfield.
“We are no longer happy renting; we want to collect rent,” he said. “We want to help others in a courtroom, taking us out from a defensive mindset to a protective one. We are now capable of learning the language of the law and using it to our political advancement. We cannot forget we had two presidential runner-ups of Hispanic descent.”
The Geoscape report stated that Hispanics comprise more than 20 percent of all U.S. entrepreneurs, compared with about half 10 years ago, and that Latinos are 1.5 times more likely than the general population to start a business.
And this makes them greater earners compared to their non-business counterparts.
Roughly 66 percent of Hispanic business owners earn more than $50,000, which is the amount only 38 percent of the overall Hispanic population in the U.S. earns, according to Geoscape.
One obstacle continues to remain in the way of future growth of Latinx (the gender-neutral term for Latinos and Latinas) businesses.
“Financing is the ultimate fuel for small guys like us,” Camino said. “In my industry, financing, or access to it, whether it’s private or conventional, it truly becomes the defining point of success or failure to a company my size.
“Banking, however, is another one of those professions that we have ‘infiltrated.’ Although we are not at the top of the industry yet, we have been able to carve out a chunk for ourselves. Microlending, SBA (small business) and commercial lending are the cornerstone of our community’s access to capital.”
His own business benefited from the support within the community, rather than commercial banks.
“In my case, for instance, after banking with PNC for years, I came to them for a commercial loan on a building we had purchased,” Camino said.
The building had been purchased through private funding — a combination of money from his parents and his retired dentist.
The bank said no, because it wanted loans of only $10 million or higher.
Instead, Camino looked within the Latinx community.
He found a friend in local government and another who offered loan products from a small local credit union — Myriam E. Cruz, vice president at Financial Resources Federal Credit Union — and together the three found a solution.
“A true example of Latino professionals working together,” Camino said. “The Latino politician, Latino developer and Latina banker. A trifecta that has the possibility of producing a profound change within the fabric of any community.”
Javier Palomarez, CEO and president of USHCC, expressed similar sentiments. He said Hispanic entrepreneurs play a crucial role in local communities.
“They create American jobs, maintain our leadership in global markets and contribute toward the mutual prosperity that makes America’s economy the greatest in the world,” Palomarez said.
And the impact is only just being felt, with lots of room to grow.
“I think, culturally, we are still very much growing,” Camino said. “There (is) still a huge gap between some of us more ‘Americanized’ Latinos. We grew up here, some of us born here. We went to college. We know the internet and know how to keep balance sheets. The lack of these basic skills is a misunderstood principle that a portion of Latino business owners do not follow and (it) ultimately holds them back.
“The mindset of saving money by running an all-cash business, for instance. Latino businesses are hardly insured. If an accident happens — fire, anything — the Latino business owner has no claim and will more than likely not reopen. As a landlord, it is my job to provide entrepreneurs with safe and upgraded places of business, so, in addition to our coverage, we now force tenants to have their own insurance. Indirectly, we also push them and help them register their businesses and keep clean records and balance sheets.”
He calls this problem a “lack of proper entrepreneurial training.”
Medina is trying to change that with entrepreneurial classes sponsored by the state’s Hispanic chamber. He saw a clear need for two different classes — one aimed at new entrepreneurs and a second, more advanced class, for those who need guidance on the nuances of having a business.
The support system within the community — which is made up of various cultures, though it shares a common language — has been a source of strength.
“I get to actually see firsthand where the dividing lines are for our people,” Camino said. “From the houses we live in to the businesses we operate. What I have gathered is that, although we have a long road ahead, we are now capable of building, funding and operating that road … so we are going for it.”