WASHINGTON – Hispanic-owned businesses in Maryland are growing faster and earning more than their counterparts nationwide, according to U.S. Census data released Tuesday.
The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in Maryland jumped more than 37 percent between 1997 and 2002, compared to a 31 percent jump nationally, a 2002 survey of business owners found. The typical business reported more than $156,000 in sales and receipts — about $15,000 more than the nationwide average.
“The growth is tremendous,” said Jorge Restrepo, president of the Montgomery County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “What we’re seeing in those numbers is a trend over time. From a policy perspective, it means a significant chunk of the profits statewide are coming from Hispanic-owned businesses.”
The bulk of the growth occurred in many of Maryland’s rapidly expanding areas, while the number of Hispanic-owned businesses declined in Calvert, Harford and Howard counties.
In Prince George’s County, the number of Hispanic-owned firms more than doubled — by far the largest increase — while Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City experienced increases of more than 30 percent.
“My mouth fell open to see this type of growth in such a short period of time,” said Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez, D-Montgomery. “Generally, we hear the stereotype that Hispanics are not being productive. But this shows they are being both productive and stable.”
The survey found that 15,353 Hispanic-owned businesses in Maryland reported nearly $2.4 billion in sales and receipts, up from 11,158 and $1.6 billion in 1997. Despite the gain, Hispanics own only about 3 percent of the state’s 443,542 businesses.
“We are in a fairly strong economy, and that is something that helps all businesses — whether they are Hispanic-owned or not,” Restrepo said.
Most Hispanic-owned businesses are five years old or less, he said, indicating that the rapid expansion will continue or even accelerate.
The expansion has been spurred in large part by legislation in favor of entrepreneurship, said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.
In 2004, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. spearheaded the passing of Minority Business Enterprise Reform legislation. The laws force state agencies to give at least 10 percent of their contracts to small and minority businesses and require contractors to name minority businesses during the bidding process.
“There’s a trend in this economy of small enterprise, and Hispanics are taking advantage of that,” Melissaratos said.
The survey defined a Hispanic-owned business as a firm in which at least 51 percent of the stock or equity is owned by a Hispanic. Census data from 2004 listed just over 5 percent of Maryland’s total population as of Hispanic or Latino origin, but Hispanics could have listed themselves in other racial categories.
Prince George’s County gained the greatest share of Hispanic businesses in the 2002 survey. More than 1,800 new businesses were reported in the county, a 120 percent increase from 1997. One-tenth of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino, according to Census data.
Montgomery County, where 13 percent of the population is Hispanic, gained more than 1,700 Hispanic-owned firms.
The county is home to Eureka Facts, a marketing research and analysis firm Restrepo runs in Rockville. The business, only three years old, has eight full-time employees and works with several national clients, Restrepo said.
Restrepo said he considers his success typical of Hispanic-owned businesses.
“There is a mix,” he said. “We’re seeing a lot of shining stars. There are a lot of other businesses out there like mine.”
Although the 1997 survey was inconclusive on what type of business was most common among Hispanic-owned firms, the latest study found construction companies to be most prevalent, followed closely by professional, administrative, health care and social services businesses.
Construction companies and others less reliant on capital tend to be the most successful, at least in the short term, Restrepo said. But the vulnerability of that line of work has pushed many toward technology, health care and other professional ventures.
The survey also found gains in unexpected areas. Charles County, where only 2 percent of people listed themselves as Hispanic or Latino in the 2000 Census, experienced a 50 percent increase in Hispanic-owned businesses.
But Restrepo and Melissaratos agreed Maryland Hispanics have a better shot than ever at owning their own business.
“If there’s a language barrier, they can overcome that,” Melissaratos said. “The only barrier is a little cash and a willingness to work hard.”