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Idaho Department of Labor: Hispanics are a growing driver of Idaho’s economy, with millions in buying power

Restaurateurs. Importers of artisan goods from Mexico. A horticulturist. A photographer. A family with untapped savings.

Nearly all of Idaho’s racial and ethnic groups saw their buying power expand faster than the U.S. average over 10 years, according to a new Idaho Department of Labor report. But with a growing number of Hispanic Idahoans in the workforce and starting small businesses, the Hispanic population’s buying power is rocketing ahead.

Hispanic buying power in Idaho increased by 65% between 2010 and 2020, the report says.

“The Hispanic market share of consumer spending is projected to increase 42% — from $6.4 million in 2020 to $9.1 million by 2025,” says the report, which is based on estimates from the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

More than 1 in 8 people in Idaho are Hispanic and/or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — which means they are from, or descended from, Spanish-speaking and/or Latin American countries. That share of the population is growing but, as the report notes, its share of Idaho’s buying power remains disproportionately small even after its recent extraordinary gains.

“Honestly, we’re not very surprised” by the findings, said Mari Ramos, director of operations for the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s basic mission is to support growth in Hispanic business — which translates to buying power.

“It’s nice to see people realize the benefits” of Idaho’s growing Hispanic population, she said.

The chamber’s mission is to build up Idaho’s Hispanic business community, including business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. The chamber’s upcoming events range from networking meetups over coffee, to a Spanish-language class on how to use Google to make a business more visible online.

“The more successful the community, the more successful the buying power,” Ramos said.

The chamber helps members at every point in the life of their business, from people who want to open a restaurant to longtime restaurant owners who need a transition plan so they can move on to the next chapter of their lives. Recent success stories also include an artisan pottery retailer, a horticulturist and a photographer, she said.

“I think that’s where we come in, right? We try to help our Hispanic community … try to help them see their opportunities when it comes to business,” Ramos said. “To be able to have more of the wealth that is in our community. To not just be the employee; to be the employer.”

Ramos noted that Idaho’s Hispanic population “tends to be fiscally conservative as well,” which makes the community more resilient when an economic crisis strikes.

But much of that buying power remains untapped, she said. Idaho businesses are skipping over a large and growing segment of the population when they advertise in English only, she said.

Craig Shaul, Idaho Department of Labor research analyst supervisor, said employers, too, are missing out on a segment of the economy.

“At the same time, there is the potential for skills and training in the workforce here that may not necessarily be tapped as much as it should,” he said.

Employers need workers to fill specific jobs, where speaking a second language is critical to the work. But there’s a hiring gap. The state needs more people who speak English as a second language to be trained to fill those jobs — or, more of the already-trained workers to become trained in a second language.

Ramos has noticed more businesses marketing to the Hispanic community and running Spanish-language advertisements on radio and television. But she can think of only a handful of large companies in Idaho, like McDonald’s and Dutch Bros., that have begun to market their products to Latinos and Hispanics.

Many of Idaho’s Hispanics speak English as a second language, or fluently.

“Spanish is still their first language; it’s still their language of comfort,” Ramos said. “Marketers are missing out. … There’s a big chunk of the community there that your marketing isn’t getting to, because it’s not in Spanish.”

— Audrey Dutton is a senior investigative reporter for the Idaho Capital Sun. This article originally published on idahocapitalsun.com.

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