‘Adding diversity to the region’: The influence of Hispanic business owners in Missouri

(L-R) Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano, Carol Lara and Ness Sandoval talk about the experience of running small businesses and the influence of Hispanic businesses in the region.

(L-R) Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano, Carol Lara and Ness Sandoval talk about the experience of running small businesses and the influence of Hispanic businesses in the region.

While Missouri may not be the first state that comes to mind as home to a thriving Hispanic/Latino population, data shows that the demographic is growing rapidly and in turn directly impacting the economics of the region.

Over a span of five years, the number of Hispanic-owned businesses in the region has increased by 42 percent, according to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis. Additionally, Missouri ranks sixth in the nation for its number of Hispanic residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh discussed the influence Hispanic business owners have on the region in light of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15) with Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano, business counselor at the HCC and co-host of the bilingual business podcast DmeToo.

Ramirez-Arellano explained that there are around 8,800 Hispanic-owned small businesses in the area, and that number is continuing to increase.

“Having Hispanic-owned businesses adds diversity to the region. There are a lot of efforts right now to make the region more inclusive – so we’re bringing the taste and the cultures of other countries,” Ramirez-Arellano said, emphasizing that these businesses aren’t just targeted at Hispanic people.

Also joining the conversation were small business owner Carol Lara and Ness Sandoval, a professor of sociology at Saint Louis University, who has extensively researched the social and economic impact of Hispanics in the region and state.

Sandoval said he tracks the growth in the demographic through information from the U.S. census and surveys done on small business. Although Missouri has a smaller Latino community compared to other metropolitan regions, he noted that since 1980 there’s been a 200 percent increase in Latino residents in the state.

Among the largest age cohorts in that demographic are children age 0 to 4 and 5 to 9 years old, so while they might not have much obvious impact today, they will in the future.

“In 20 to 30 years, these are the individuals who are going to be entering the labor market,” Sandoval said. “That’s why we’re starting to have these conversations: ‘How do we create better working environments? How do we educate a population on how to start a small business?,’ … to provide an understanding on how to succeed in the business market.”

Taking advantage of resources

Sometimes, small businesses stay small because owners don’t have the resources or knowledge on how to “get access to the bigger capital that’s there to grow the business,” Sandoval said.

Lara “really took the leap” a year ago when she left her corporate job to open a business centered on her passion for photography.

In the beginning, there were many mistakes made, Lara said, but she learned from them and is now more proactive in seeking out helpful resources, such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

“[I] meet with people like Gabriella [Ramirez-Arellano] and just go over my fears, my concerns that I have with starting my own business, Lara said. “There are definitely a lot of resources that I’ve never heard of that I can take advantage of.”

Ramirez-Arellano said the DmeToo podcast is another resource bilingual Hispanic and English speakers can use to get tips from business owners and other professionals in an entertaining way. She explained that the podcast started when her co-host Junior Lara “started to see a void in the support system as a professional Latino in St. Louis.”

“We decided that the gap that’s there is a way to provide something, and that’s where a lot of these businesses are being born, for many different reasons but out of necessity … because we see a gap in the system that we can fill,” she added.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara HamdanCaitlin Lally and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.


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