Yo tengo dinero

Roberto Llamas is a native son. He grew up here and attended Chico State. After practicing photography as a hobby for 10 years, he left his job in television to work on it full time. As word of mouth spread about his talent and affordability, he quickly established a profitable local photography business.

Llamas is Hispanic. His success story was one of many told Sept. 23 at the Sierra Nevada Brewery’s Big Room at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Northern California’s (HCCNC) Hispanic Marketing Conference. “I think that the Hispanic community is a valuable segment of our population,” he said. “And I think that as a business you need to target this market in order to be successful in the future.”

Considering the statistics, he has a point. More than 35 million people in the United States—12.5 percent—are Hispanic, a number on the rise.

Hispanics comprise an estimated 10.5 percent of the population of Butte County, and the local Hispanic community continues to grow in number and influence, reflecting national trends.

That’s a lot of buying power. In fact, it’s the fastest growing market in the United States, with nearly $700 billion in buying power last year alone.

State projections say Butte County will have 33,623 Hispanic residents by 2010, a large potential market.

“The purpose,” says HCCNC President Patti Hernandez-Reeson, “is to get the information out there to the businesses about the potential economic spending power that the Hispanic community has. A wide spectrum of different companies are really looking to tap into this market.”

That community is very diverse, said speaker Eduardo Alberto Wagner, though people unfamiliar with them mistakenly assume that all Hispanics are Mexican, or that they only speak Spanish. In fact, a person identifying as Hispanic can have a background from any of 21 Spanish-speaking countries. They may have recently immigrated to the United States or have had family in the U.S. for generations.

Culture and vocabulary vary from country to country, and it helps to be sensitive to those differences, stressed Wagner. It’s important to know the background of your audience. Even knowing which cultures prefer black beans to pinto, or flour tortillas to corn can help you understand them, he said.

“Is it corn or flour tortillas in Colombia?” Wagner asked the crowd. After a smattering of responses, he informs them it’s a trick question. “They don’t eat tortillas in Colombia,” he said.

Misconceptions and lack of information often dissuade business owners from working with this potential market. By providing those owners information about the Hispanic community, the HCCNC hopes to stimulate understanding—and commerce—between the two.