U.S. economy being fueled by success of Hispanic-owned business

A cherry-flavored fancy light beer, a café con leche Milk Stout, and an India Pale Ale infused with passion fruit — these are some of the blends concocted in a kitchen in uptown Manhattan and brewed to perfection two-and-a-half hours north of there, in a private manufacturing facility in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

For 29-year-old Juan Camilo, the recipes for his beers are deeply personal, as he was inspired by his single mom and accomplished school teacher, his Dominican roots and the working-class Manhattan neighborhood he grew up in.

Camilo started the Dyckman Beer Company a year-and-a half ago. Today, his craft beers are being sold in about 70 bars, restaurants and grocery stores in New York City. He has also established new accounts in the Dominican Republic.

Camilo, who moved to the United States at age 5, is the new face of American small business — and he is using his Hispanic heritage and uptown roots as a business advantage. On the side of his beers reads ‘Una Vaina Bien’ – a popular Latino catchphrase meaning ‘A really good thing,’ an attempt to connect with shoppers on a whole new level.

“I just think it’s that emotional connection we have with our background,” Camilo said. “A lot of immigrants, especially from the Hispanic community, came here in the last 10, 20 years and they can relate to these [beer] flavors; the emotional connection to their country is strong, and I’m very glad I’ve been able to put that forward in my company.”

The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in New York City has nearly doubled since the late 1990s, to more than 140,000. About one in seven businesses in the Big Apple are now owned by Latinos.

The success stories extend beyond New York. There are more than 3 million Latino-owned businesses in the U.S., a number up more than 40 percent since 2007, according to a Hispanics in Business 2014 study, released by Geoscape and published in partnership with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Financial experts say Hispanics are starting businesses at three times the national rate, fueling the economy, empowering Hispanic families and all while changing main street USA.

Never before, analysts say, has the success of America’s small businesses been so dependent on the success of Hispanic families.

“You’ll see that throughout [NYC's Washington Heights] there’s just Latino and Dominican businesses located on every inch of this community,” said Cid Wilson, president and CEO of the Hispanic Association of Corporate Responsibility, while standing on the corner of 181st street and Broadway, the heart of the New York’s Dominican community.

Wilson, a Dominican-American, now lives in Washington, D.C. where he advocates to get Fortune 500 companies to diversify their corporate leadership positions, while working also to build the nation’s first National Latino Museum. Before then, he was a successful Wall Street investor. He says he owes his success to his parents' private medical practice. Opened in the mid-1960s, his parents' was one of the first Hispanic medical practices to open in the neighborhood at a time when Dominicans were coming to New York in droves.

“They were in this corner for about 40 years before they retired and they served generations of Dominican families,” Wilson said, while pointing to the towers he lived in across the street from the practice in Washington Heights. “After my mother and father established their small business, their medical clinic, we were able to bring my aunts and uncles to the U.S. and they came right to this very same corner to this very same community.”

For Wilson, small business success is key to empowering Hispanic families and closing the wealth gap in America. The average white household is worth 10 times more than a Hispanic household, according to a December 2014 Pew Research Center analysis of Federal Reserve data. Those with small businesses are 80 percent more likely to make $100,000 or more.

Despite the strong growth of Hispanic businesses around the country, they still face many hurdles. The biggest among them, experts say, is access to capital.

A report last year by Rutgers, Utah State and Brigham Young universities found that black and Hispanic entrepreneurs are discriminated against when seeking small business loans from banks. The study found banks provided far less information about loan terms and offered less application help to minorities, the study says. The result, the study showed, is that minorities are less likely than whites to receive financing.

The Small Business Administration, now headed by a Latina, Maria Contreras Sweet, sees this issue as a main priority. Over the past year, the SBA has facilitated more than $1.3 billion in loans to Hispanic business owners.

“The SBA is such a huge catalyst because of the fact that they offer loan guarantees,” Wilson said. “Without some of those loan guarantees it's very difficult for a new immigrant who doesn’t have credit but has a great idea—and a great solution to help our economy move forward to open up that business.”

As a new generation of Latino business owners emerges, others are struggling to keep their doors open – particularly when they are faced with gentrification. About 20 years ago, Ramona Tates was working as a hair dresser in a salon. Today, she and her friend are owners of Raseni Beauty Salon in Washington Heights.

“Business has gone down a lot, the rent is too high, the taxes are too high and it’s very hard to keep clients because there is a lot of competition,” Tates said.

She would like to charge more for services but she risks alienating her customers. Everyone wants their hair done well, but everyone wants to pay “Washington Heights” prices – even as the neighborhood is changing.

“We do quality work but we can’t charge for that quality because when you speak to someone from Washington Heights – they think this is a dangerous community, that it’s not a safe community. But that’s not how it is,” Tates said.

Today, Dominicans are the largest foreign-born population in New York City.

Ramona Hernandez of the City University of New York’s Dominican Studies Institute says understanding the success and failures of the Dominican community can help more recent immigrant groups succeed.

“This is not a group that has one leg here and one leg in the Dominican Republic,” said Hernandez, who herself immigrated to New York City when she was just 19. “This is not the case anymore. Every day they are burying their dead here. They are part of the city and they have become part of the city permanently.”

Some, like Wilson, believe it is the potent combination of entrepreneurial spirit and a necessity for wanting to stay true to cultural roots that can continue to empower the Hispanic community.

“No matter how much we succeed, we always remember where we came from and always we remember to make sure we come back to the community,” Wilson said, “and to make sure we remember as we rise up that ladder that that ladder remains so that others could rise up with us.”

New York's FOX 5 News and Fox News Latino partner to bring you the 'Our American Dream' series, highlighting Latino successes, struggles, and voices from the Latino community.