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Hispanic businesses increase, but slowly

County Census figures show the boost is 9 percent compared with 25 percent for businesses as a whole

Numbers just released by the U.S. Census Bureau show Hispanic business growth in Jackson County from 1997 to 2002 has been slow ' with only 9 percent more Hispanic owned businesses compared with 25 percent growth for businesses as a whole countywide.

But local leaders say things have perked up a lot in the years since.

Nationally, the census bureau reported Hispanic-owned businesses growing at three times the national rate from 1997 to 2002, for an average 31 percent increase in the period. It said there were 1.6 million Hispanic businesses in the U.S. in 2002 ' and that Hispanics owned 7 percent of businesses in the country.

However, in Oregon, the Hispanic business growth rate was pegged at only 6 percent during the period, while the rate was 27 percent in California.

With real estate prices sky-high, it's hard to come and live here, said Oscar Rodriguez, new owner of a State Farm insurance agency in Medford. It's expensive, but a lot of (Hispanic) people know that with the rise in population, there's a lot of opportunity to start a business, and they jump on the bandwagon.

— In Jackson County, 320 Hispanic-owned businesses were reported in 1997, with a 9 percent increase to 349 in 2002, said Guy Tauer, regional economist with the Oregon Department of Employment in Medford. In the same period, the total number of businesses grew from 4,497 to 5,625, a 25 percent increase. Hispanic firms with paid employees declined from 79 to 75 in the same span.

Tauer noted that Hispanic business growth should have been higher because the Hispanic population in the county went from 10,073 in 1997 to 13,280 in 2002, an increase of 32 percent.

Magui Jorgensen of Chamber Latino Network, part of the Medford Chamber of Commerce, said real estate prices here are a huge obstacle, as is the lack of a major, accessible airport and good-paying labor jobs to get started.

However, she added that the slow-growth figures reported by the census are about reversed now, with about three times as many new Hispanic businesses as non-Hispanic.

Most are in Talent-Phoenix where it's most affordable. Most are service-oriented, like restaurants, markets and retail shops ' and most are family operations, hiring relatives early on, because of tight family orientation of Latinos and also the considerable language barrier, said Jorgensen.

Castillo Garcia, a Mexican immigrant and manager of El Gallo market in Medford, agreed that Hispanic businesses are growing much faster than the rest ' and that his market is thriving and including Anglo workers, as well as a lot of Anglo customers who've gotten hooked on Latino cooking.

At a Small Business and Workforce Development Conference last year in Phoenix attended by more than 200 people, the Chamber Latino identified lack of education about business as the main obstacle for Hispanic entrepreneurs, Jorgensen said.

Many Latinos jump into business ownership without adequate capital, credit, business plans or a knowledge of the complexities of American business, such as insurance, worker's compensation, taxes, accounting and daily cash flow, said Jorgensen, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic.

They don't want to be temp workers. They think it's easier to start their own business and learn by trial and error. But they may not know how to keep track of what money is coming in and going out every day ' or how to prepare taxes at the end of the year, said Jorgensen, adding that Chamber Latino trains entrepreneurs in these skills.

Manuela Marney of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Medford said it's a big challenge for Latinos to start and manage a business because most newcomers are not familiar with the business resources available in the community and could use a lot of one-on-one coaching before going through the process.

New business owners like Oscar Banuelos, co-owner of Tile Brothers in Medford, sums it up with a can-do simplicity: Oh yes, we're doing well, because many people are coming here to Oregon.

Banuelos said he and his brother have someone helping with taxes and insurance, and the high cost of property hasn't been much of an obstacle.

Expensive? No, it's not too expensive here, he said. We're buying our own home.

Pi?atas hang above a refrigerated meat and cheese case at El Gallo, a Hispanic market in Medford. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell