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How Latino culture influences business practices in Utah

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After the federal government shutdown in January due to a disagreement over funding for a wall along the Mexico-United States border, Zions Bank decided to survey a representative sample of 500 Utah households to see how they felt about Hispanic-owned businesses and whether they felt immigrants contribute to the economy.

Working with the Cicero Group, the responses to the survey were fairly positive. According to Zions Bank, in January 2019, 68.8% of Utahns either “strongly agreed” or “somewhat agreed” that immigrants positively contribute to the state’s economy. Specifically relating to Hispanic-owned businesses, 62% of respondents saw the economic impact of Hispanic-owned businesses as positive and 72.4% said they were likely to support Hispanic-owned businesses.

Zions Bank also reported a whopping 84% of Utahns shop at Hispanic-owned businesses over the course of a year. That number isn’t too surprising — the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce says Latino business owners trend towards industries like construction, food service, professional services like bookkeeping, and temporary services like landscaping, as well as the cleaning industry — industries Utah residents use often.

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said more than 15,000 Hispanic business owners are registered with the Utah Department of Commerce — but looking through business registration, he estimates the number is probably closer to 30,000, with 14 or 15,000 choosing not to self-identify as Latino or Hispanic.

“With those 30,000 Hispanic business owners in the state of Utah, we generate plenty of job opportunities,” Guzman said. “The contribution we as a Hispanic group (make) every single year to the local economy is more than $9.4 billion.”

In many Latino households, Guzman said, both parents work, grandparents living with the family work, and older children likely work as well. According to Guzman, the combine income in a Hispanic household is almost $96,000 a year, and most of it goes back into the local economy.

“Our spending habits are different,” Guzman said. “As we work very hard to make money, we actually work even harder to spend that money ... we are pretty much the floor to any local recession, because our dollars are ... the cash flow of the local economy ... because we consume pretty much almost all the income we receive on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis.”

Guzman estimates roughly 12,000 Latino business owners are in Utah County, which he said has the third-largest Latino population in the state. Coming from Latino and Hispanic backgrounds brings positives to the table, like a good work ethic, Guzman said, but it’s also not without its challenges.

Jaime Alonso, the Provo region financial center manager for Zions Bank, specializes in working with Latinos looking to start or support a business. He said major challenges facing Latino entrepreneurs are first, understanding what it takes to help their business be successful, and second, possible language challenges.

“Not understanding what they want to do, not having a clear path of where they want to get sometimes, they just know they want to open a business,” Alonso said.

To overcome that challenge, Alonso said at Zions Bank employees will ask Latino entrepreneurs about their business plan, and even go so far as to help them create a business plan, including two-year projections.

Another way Latino business owners find support in their ventures is through classes at Mountainland Technical College. The UHCC partnered with the college to create an 11-week long program tailored to the Latino business community, hiring professionals to offer training to Latino business owners, according to Guzman.

As for language challenges, Guzman said this can be the cause of another problem among Latino business owners — a tendency to cater only to the Latino community.

“I do think that culturally speaking, when a Hispanic business owner opens a business, in the majority of the cases, they don’t go beyond the comfort zone. We tend to be with people alike. We’re the same culture, we’re the same language, we’re the same behaviors, and because of that, they open up a business to serve that micro Hispanic community around that business, which is a mistake,” Guzman said. “If we are just 17% of the population and we run our business just in Spanish to serve just Spanish-speaking customers, I’m losing 83% of opportunities. So the idea is, to help the business, the Hispanic business community to understand how important it is for them to serve non-Spanish speaking customers as well.”

A simple way to solve the problem, Guzman said, is to hire someone bilingual to serve English-speaking customers as well as Spanish-speaking. Business owners can still run their own business in Spanish, he added.

However, the Latino community tendency to band together also has positive affects on Latino business owners, Alonso said.

“The culture is that (the Latino community) will go and support their own,” he said. For example, if a new Latino-owned restaurant opens up, Alonso said typically Latinos will go and support the restaurant. “So they all go to the Hispanic restaurant, then that turns into a chain ... until they invite more people and that’s one of the things that they (Latinos) do to support the community ... that’s very cultural.”

The desire to contribute, and a strong work ethic, are two Latino culture positives both Alonso and Guzman said Latino business owners bring to the table.

“(Latinos) like to share, they like to give things to the community ... they sponsor a lot of events,” Alonso said, adding that sports, especially baseball and soccer, seem to be particular favorites of Latino-owned businesses.

More importantly, Alonso said, Latinos try to grow and boost the economy. According to Alonso, over 4 million Latinos own businesses nationwide, contributing on average over $7 billion to the national economy. Utah, Alonso said, has one of the largest percentages of Latino-owned businesses in the country.

Guzman believes most Latinos’ have a stronger work ethic than some other workers, a work ethic that comes from their culture.

“We don’t work by the clock ... we always run that extra mile,” Guzman said. “Culturally speaking, we are pretty much a ‘yes’ society. We tend to say yes to pretty much every challenge we have in front of us, and that’s why the majority of employers, they love to work with Hispanics.”

Guzman admits that there are exceptions to this, but maintains that the attitudes of Latino workers tend towards a willingness to do what it takes to do a job well, regardless of whether it’s in the job description.

“What is more important for us is that the work is done.”

For both Alonso and Guzman, being Latino and coming from Latino culture is a matter of pride when it comes to their work.

“As a Hispanic, I’m proud to say that, hey, we do contribute to the economy of the United States,” Alonso said. “It’s the country where we live.”

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