Hispanic businesses expand in Oklahoma

Saturday, August 13th 2005, 5:33 pm
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Inside a tortilla shop on the south side of Oklahoma City, 19-year-old Elias Pando is the boss. The recent Capitol Hill High School graduate says Tortilleria Lupita, which makes and delivers its own tortillas, grosses more than $100,000 a year.

``A lot of people don't think much of Hispanics,'' Pando said. ``So, it's nice to show people that Hispanics can be good businessmen and women.''

Hispanic leaders say the growth of their community is not only changing the face of Oklahoma, but is improving the economic condition of the state.

Over the last 10 years, the Hispanic population has more than doubled to over 200,000 in 2004, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There were 3.5 million residents overall in the state last year.

The rising number of Hispanics is good for Oklahoma, David Castillo, president of the Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said.

``By 2007, one in 10 small businesses in America will be Hispanic,'' he said. ``We have over 200 members in our organization, and people are constantly coming in with new business ideas.''

Hispanics have opened more than 30 new businesses in the last year in Oklahoma City, Castillo said.

``The businesses are growing so rapidly that it's often hard to keep up,'' he said. ``Right now, there are more than 1.6 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States.''

Stores that sell tortillas have been catching on.

The round bread is a major part of the Hispanic diet.

``In our culture, we sometimes eat them with every meal,'' Pando said.

Bobby Brinlee, owner of South of the Border Mercados de Carne (which is Spanish for meat market), does not have a Hispanic background, but he's hoping to capitalize on the Hispanic demographic.

Brinlee, 47, said he opened the store 15 months ago after discovering Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in the nation.

Aside from being a meat market and grocery store, the store sells traditional Mexican dishes like tamales, tostados and menudo, and pastries such as conchas and empanadas.

``Hispanics are a growing market in the business world and there is enough for everybody,'' Brinlee said. ``I'm just trying to get my piece of the pie.''

Brinlee said his business has bilingual employees in every department, and the store has a Western Union that many customers use to send money back home to Mexico, Brinlee said.

``They are the next generation of Oklahoma and they have already become mainstream society,'' he said.

Though Hispanics posses more than $200 million in buying power in Oklahoma City alone, the group is sometimes met with resistance, Castillo said.

Efforts like the English Only movement can sometimes be discouraging, he said.

``I like to call them growing pains,'' Castillo said. ``We will have more of these in the future, but people are going to have to realize that things are changing.

``I think we need to educate people on the culture, similarities and differences. We can get more done working together.''

Some organizations such as the Oklahoma Department of Labor are trying to make accommodations for the growing Hispanic population, said Pat McGuigan, ODL deputy commissioner.

The department has recently published its child labor laws in Spanish, and the Occupational and Safety Health Administration as well as the Wage and Hour Division now have bilingual departments, McGuigan said.

``These are just a few examples of how the government is responding to a changing economy,'' McGuigan said.

Castillo said he believes Hispanics will branch out more into construction and landscaping in the near future.

About 7.7 percent of construction and extractive craft workers are Hispanic, according to the 2000 census. About 12.9 percent are classified as laborers and helpers.

``Hispanics are hard workers,'' Castillo said. ``Instead of one job, we usually end up with two.

Pando, who inherited his tortilla shop after his father died in March of liver cancer, said he would like to see his company expand into a factory.

``Hispanics are showing that we can do as good if not better in the business world than the average owner,'' he said.