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Op/ed: California’s fast-growing job creator — Latino businesses


By Mark Martinez on March 15, 2013

At some point this summer, the largest population group in California will quietly shift from white to Hispanic, the first time since California became a state in 1850.

By 2020, Hispanics will represent almost 41 percent of the population, with nearly 2 million more Hispanics than whites — and topping 1 million Hispanics in five counties, according to new projections by the California Department of Finance.

By 2030, Latinos will be by far the largest group in the work force, age of 25 to 64, with 9.6 million people, compared to 7.2 million whites and 3.1 million Asians. And by 2060, nearly half of all Californians will be Latinos.

This long-building demographic change in California will not only change the face of the state,  but also change the face of its businesses.

Generations of Latinos have come to California for the same reasons that generations of whites, blacks and Asians have come here — for the chance to pursue what we now call the American Dream.

While some think of California’s 14 million Latinos primarily as workers, Latinos today are the fastest-growing segment of business owners. From San Diego to the North State, Latinos are starting businesses, creating jobs and pursuing their passions.

In fact, there are an estimated 700,000 Hispanic-owned businesses throughout California, from one-person operations to large companies employing thousands of Californians. There are about 1,525 Hispanic-owned businesses involved in local Hispanic chambers in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

These business owners strive to excel by providing products and services that meet a need.

That includes business owners such as Fred Ruiz, who founded Ruiz Foods in Tulare with his father, Louis, in 1964 and built it into one of the best-known Hispanic-owned businesses and one of the largest food companies in the nation with as many as 2,500 employees. Ruiz Foods, now based in Dinuba, is one of the largest private employers in the central San Joaquin Valley and shows how Hispanic business owners and entrepreneurs are contributing to our communities — and the state.

While many Hispanic-owned businesses are succeeding today, the future of these businesses and those that come in the decades ahead is the future of California.
These business owners need the training to grow their organizations so that they can prosper and provide jobs that California’s growing population needs. They will also need a work force prepared to carry on California’s history of innovation.

Whether it is the innovation of Silicon Valley in technology or the innovation in agriculture that helps feed the world, California’s future rests on continuing our excellence.
To assess the current environment for Hispanic-owned businesses, the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce recently embarked on a partnership with the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, for an in-depth study that will assess their strengths and their needs. This kind of information is critical to understand for our state.

It’s imperative that policymakers and business advocates, including the more than 65 Hispanic chambers in our state, understand the unique strengths of this segment of our economy and ensure that we, as a state, are ready to assist these business owners in tackling the challenges they face.

While it is easy to focus on today’s economy, we must also prepare for tomorrow’s economy — one that will rely more on the entrepreneurial culture of California’s growing Latino population.

• Mark Martinez is president and CEO of the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, which is hosting its first-ever Economic Summit on March 14 in Sacramento. For more information, please visit