It’s all about the numbers

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By Gonzalo de la Melena

Gonzalo de la Melena. Courtesy of AZHCC

They say, “The numbers don’t lie.”

Likewise, if you really want to know the truth about how the Latino community is impacting the state’s economy, check out the numbers.

On May 4, the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (AZHCC) releases its 16th Annual DATOS: Focus on the Hispanic Market, a far-reaching report on the ever-growing effects of the state’s burgeoning Hispanic population. 

The report will be released during the Chamber’s first ever, two-day business symposium called “Transforming Arizona’s Economy” at the Phoenix Convention Center. The agenda also includes a free series of small business workshops and a community town hall featuring a debate between the top contenders in the 2012 U.S. Senate race. On Saturday, May 5, the AZHCC hosts its 54th Annual Black & White Ball and Business Awards. (Details at 

One expert observer has described the new data in this year’s DATOS report (much of it based on the latest U.S. Census figures) as nothing less than “astounding.” I agree. Here are some of the highlights that caught my eye:

Arizona is now home to 60,000-plus Latino-owned businesses. More than a third are Latina-owned and one-third are immigrant-owned.

Latinos are now the majority  in our state’s public schools, a clear indicator of the demographic changes to come. (Demographers estimate Latinos will  be the State  majority by 2030 or sooner.)

Arizona Latinos account for $40 billion in consumer spending annually and nationwide our buying power is $1.2 trillion.

In 2012, a record number of Arizona Latinos will be registered to vote (an estimated 480,000), and, thanks to the efforts of grassroots voter-registration organizations, Latino voter turnout could also reach historic levels.

DATOS is chock full of a wide range of equally impressive data, but what the numbers show overall is that we are now an economic force to be reckoned with, and we will be an influential force for decades to come.

The recession hit our community hard. And overly punitive immigration legislation did great harm to to the brand of Arizona. That’s undeniable. What is also undeniable is that our community will not be defeated. 

The Department of Homeland Security estimates that 240,000 undocumented immigrants left Arizona in the period leading up to 2010, most probably as a result of the effects of the recession and stepped-up immigration enforcement. Sadly, many of those immigrants likely left with U.S.-born children, spouses and other relatives who were citizens or legal residents – taking with them, meanwhile, untold millions in contributions to our state’s tax coffers.

Yet, despite that exodus, Arizona’s Hispanic population grew by 48 percent between 2000 and 2010, and estimates are that it will grow another 50 percent by 2020. 

Ultimately, I believe, Arizona will continue as an “opportunity oasis” for migrants, Latino and non-Latino, from across the nation and the world, because the opportunities for Hispanics and other minority communities are growing. 

Phoenix and Tucson already are minority-majority cities. In less than a generation, minorities will be the majority statewide. As a result, any company, for profit or nonprofit, must answer the following question in order to thrive: “How do I give my customers what they need?”

What they need is what every customer needs – respect; except that communities of color sometimes want it to come with a cultural twist.

Arizona Latinos can point to a great historical legacy that precedes statehood. But the coming century may yield our greatest legacy yet.

I believe that Arizona understands its destiny. Our corporate supporters know that the changing face of their customer base is a reality and they are responding. If you look at the ranks of our Chamber’s corporate supporters, those we call “Los Amigos,” you get a taste of the companies that are reaching out to the Latino community,  such as APS, Fry’s Food Stores, University of Phoenix, SRP, Cox, Univisión and Republic Media, just to name a few.

These are companies that not only support community causes, but the way they do business shows how much they value their growing minority customer base.

Because in the end, it’s all about the “numbers.”

Gonzalo de la Melena is president and CEO of the Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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