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Boom pulls Hispanic workers

AP photo

Oregon trend opens doors in construction

PORTLAND ­ On the side of a huge craned fork lift affectionatelycalled Juanita was the motto of Cortez Acoustics: Si SePuede or It's possible.

Growing numbers of Hispanic workers have found that it is possible tobreak into construction trades as the building boom continues in the Portlandarea, and some, like Arturo Cortez, have discovered it's even possible toown your own company.

The company's big break came last year when a representative from KRWest, an arm of the Randall Realty Corp., asked Cortez to bid on the SirCharles apartment project.

It also forced the investment in Juanita.

The machine is capable of lifting 8 tons of Sheetrock four stories andinserting it into a window.

The $800,000 drywall project transformed Cortez Acoustics from a smallcompany employing a handful of workers a year ago to a full-scale operationwith 75 drywallers this year. Cortez hopes to do $2 million in labor andmaterial this year, 10 times more than last year.

I think what's happening here in Oregon is something that's happenedall throughout the country, Cortez said. And this labor forcethat has proved itself all over the country is here now.

Exact numbers are not available, but those in the construction fieldagree that Hispanic workers seem to be flocking to the construction trades.

We do see a trend, said Frances Alvarado, an employment counselorand office manager of Oregon Human Development Corp. in Woodburn. The employmentand training agency sponsors a class at Chemeketa Community College in Salemthat offers farmworkers training in construction.

It's a good match. People with a strong work ethic, wanting towork, wanting to work long hours, and the employer wanting a good worker,Alvarado said.

Construction project managers, such as Emery Smith, welcome the infusionof Hispanic workers.

Smith oversaw a home construction site project early this year off SunnysideRoad in Clackamas County where more than half of those sawing, nailing anddigging one day were Hispanic.

There's a high demand for framing, and I choose Hispanics overCaucasians, said Smith, a construction project manager based in Portland.And I don't regret it at all.

Cortez says that Hispanic workers in Oregon have largely been stereotypedas farmworkers and have seen their contributions in the construction fieldgo unrecognized.

The Hispanic labor force has always been here, he said. Thepeople involved in construction know. They know that what they need hereis a Hispanic labor force for construction.

Margarito Galvan, left, and Jose Alvarez work on a home in Clackamas County. Growing numbers of Hispanic workers are breaking into construction trades in Oregon.