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Businesses Respond to Immigrants

Growing Hispanic population affects way local residents do business.

Wearing Adidas running shoes and carrying a Spanish newspaper with photos of the World Cup on the cover, Jose Rivas, a resident of Sterling walks up to a Sprint Cellular service desk in Herndon and handed over his cell phone information and asks to pay off his monthly bill.

"It should be $91 or something, I want to pay it all off now," Rivas said in Spanish to the clerk, Carlos Hernandez, a young man wearing a button-down shirt tucked into neatly-pressed suit pants.

After a few strokes on a keyboard and checking the status of the phone with Sprint’s database, he let him know that his total is just under $90. Rivas paid it with a 100 dollar bill.

"Having the cell phone is important for me … I use it when I work at my job," said Rivas, who moves furniture for a living. "I’m always moving around and I need to speak with my partners at other jobs."

RIVAS IS PART of the rapidly growing Hispanic immigrant population in Herndon and Fairfax County who are beginning to show their influence on the economy as consumers and business owners, causing local businesses to change the way that they do business.

"We’re starting to see more and more companies that are looking to hire Latino employees so that they can communicate better with their customers," said Ellen Kaminsky, vice president of the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce. "Think about it. When you have this many Latinos living in the area, why not try and attract that business? You’d be losing out on a large amount of potential revenue."

According to the 2000 U.S. census, Hispanics accounted for 26 percent of the population of Herndon. While the population of Fairfax County grew by about 18.5 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to census figures, the Hispanic population of Fairfax County grew by 112 percent in the same period.

THE HISPANIC POPULATION boom has brought with it an estimated $4.8 billion in money spent annually by Latinos in Fairfax County, Loudoun County, Arlington County, Prince William County and Alexandria, according to Jorge Figueredo, a founding member of Security One Bank in Falls Church, a community bank that opened in May and offers services catering to the Hispanic community

"We have a very large community here in the Fairfax [County], Arlington and Alexandria region with a large concentration of buying power," Figueredo said. The presence of the Hispanic community "is a very positive contribution to the economy and is a big part of pushing it further … and making it stronger."

"I think you’re seeing a lot of added revenue coming into the community, because when you live here, you have to spend money on things like groceries, dining, even going to the movies," Kaminsky said. "When you have such a large economically-influential group living in an area, why wouldn’t you want that extra spending taking place?"

"I see it on different levels," Figueredo said of the impact of the Hispanic market on business owners. "When you have a Korean owner of a dry cleaner or a market naming it with a Spanish name or you have big corporations putting advertisements in the Spanish newspapers, people tap into the market every day."

Kaminsky added that the added spending wasn’t just pumping money into the local economy but contributing to town coffers.

"If local businesses are doing well and people are out spending money, they’re ultimately paying more in taxes to the town," Kaminsky said.

"What it means is that you have more people consuming, paying taxes and contributing their work," said Figueredo.

FINDING A WAY to communicate and relate to the Hispanic population has been a significant part to the success of Herndon resident Jennifer Cerda, a real estate agent with Weichert Realtors in Herndon. Cerda, a native to the United States, learned Spanish through courses in college and daily use.

"I’d say that [learning Spanish] has impacted me quite a bit in my job," Cerda said, who added that in the last year about 70 percent of her transactions as a real estate agent had involved members of the Hispanic population.

"Spanish-speaking people want to trust who they’re dealing with," Cerda said. "They’re living in an entirely new world and trying to adjust to that and me being an American who speaks Spanish … it definitely is an advantage."

"I think if you’re working anywhere where there is a large Hispanic community, speaking the language fluently, it’s going to mean a lot more business," she added.

Cerda, whose client base is about half Hispanic and half American natives, said that being able to tap into the Hispanic market is even more important now as the housing market is flattening.

AS THE HISPANIC population in Herndon and Fairfax County has increased, so has the number of Hispanic-owned businesses registered in the area, according to U.S. census figures.

From 1997 to 2002, Hispanic-owned businesses have increased by 47.2 percent, with 727 of those Hispanic-owned firms employing workers. The census report marked 10,422 people working at Hispanic-owned companies in Fairfax County in 2002, an increase of 22.7 percent from 1997.

The increase in Hispanic-owned businesses in the Herndon-Dulles region caused the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce to open an Hispanic Business Council in April of 2004. There are now more than 70 members, up from less than 12 when it opened, Kaminsky said.

"We saw that we had an awful lot of businesses out there that we just weren’t connecting with," causing the chamber to see a need to open the Hispanic Council, Kaminsky said. "By reaching out and educating the other businesses about catering to the Latino community… I think we’re growing tremendously."

"Whenever you have a company that opens here, you have more jobs," she added.

FIGUEREDO SAID THAT the burgeoning Hispanic community and its increasing number of business owners are filling a need for labor in a county that, according to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, registered just a 2.3 percent unemployment rate in March.

"Right now it’s the immigrant population and the Hispanic community that have been filling out many of those jobs where there is nobody to do them," Figueredo said. "What it means is that these people are contributing more fully to American society."

"There are an awful lot of jobs out there that a lot of people don’t want to do … and a lot of people don’t want to get their hands dirty, even if they were getting paid an extra $3 an hour to do it," said Kaminsky. "How many teenagers want to work at a McDonalds?"

"If we don’t have people to fill these jobs, they’re going to leave," she added. "If jobs were leaving, businesses would be closing and it would hurt the economy."

Without the presence of the Hispanic immigrant population as consumers and business owners in Fairfax County, Kaminsky said that she thought the economy would not be as robust as it is.

For Figueredo, it’s about finding a way to help the Hispanic immigrant population adjust to the financial systems of the United States so that more people will become home and business owners.

"When you are the owner of your own small business or the owner of your home, you see things differently," he said. "You care more about what happens in your community and you want to continue making it a great place to live."

"By doing this, we can help to integrate these people into society and that’s what this country is all about," Figueredo said. "I think the [economic] contributions will only continue to be larger because in time we will have a more educated Spanish community."

"From a business perspective, I think we’re getting to a point where you can’t afford to lose the revenue you could gain by working with the Latino community," Kaminsky said. "I think you can reduce it all down to a matter of color, and no matter what someone’s skin color is, their money is always green."