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Faculty Conduct Study about Latino Contributions to Lehigh Valley Economy

12/4/2008 —

Dr. Jennifer Parker Talwar and Dr. David Livert, who serve as researchers for Penn State Lehigh Valley's Center for Community and Organizational Research, along with a team of students and research assistants, presented the findings of the study, "2008 Portrait of Latino Business Owners and Professionals," at a press conference held November 20, 2008 at The Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC).

The study was commissioned by the Latino Economic Council (LEC) of LVEDC as part of a larger effort to increase the visibility and success of Latino business owners and professionals in the region. The Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board, Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Foundation, LVEDC, Air Products Foundation, Sovereign Bank and PPL provided the funding to launch and complete the study.

Dr. Talwar, associate professor of sociology, was the principal investigator and Dr. Livert, assistant professor of psychology, was co-investigator. They interviewed 103 business owners, mostly through personal meetings for an average of 1.5 hours; and surveyed 106 professionals electronically through their website. 

The results show that Latino business owners and professionals represent an economically empowered community in our region. Latino business owners include a wide variety of industries and are among the most prominent business owners in the Lehigh Valley. Some are pioneering global business networks in various regions of the world.  Small business ownership, in particular, is the path out of poverty especially for those who lack credentials to get a good job in the United States, writes Dr. Talwar.

Both Drs. Talwar and Livert agreed that this business community is an integral part of the urban revitalization that is taking place in the downtowns of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. "They are a silent key to economic development in our region as a whole," says Dr. Talwar," in so far as we are promoting our urban centers as tourist and entertainment zones with shopping, restaurants, museums, sports centers, and the new casino project." 

The study shows that the business owners have worked to make a living in this region through business ownership and entrepreneurship. One business owner surveyed told the researchers that he was successful in his business venture, "by the grace of God, my two hands, and I work like crazy."After starting from scratch in the U.S. he now has a net worth between $500,000-$750,000. Those numbers were reflective in the median annual business revenue for Latinos at $50,000-$100,000 and 34 percent have revenues exceeding $200,000. 

Of the Latino businesses surveyed, the majority, 46 percent, have deep roots to the Lehigh Valley and have been in the community for more than 21 years. Latino business owners overwhelmingly spend more locally and employ 1-25 people on average in their businesses.

Latino professionals surveyed show that they are socially and economically mobile and maintain strong networks with mentors outside of the region.  The vast majority (90 percent) of professionals speak English more than Spanish or with equal fluency. Among the professionals surveyed, 54 percent felt their Latino background had a positive impact on their career.  Like the Latino business owners, the professionals are also deeply rooted in the region with the majority (52 percent) giving back to the Lehigh Valley community by sharing their expertise and two-thirds, giving back financially.

Latinas are successful as business owners and professionals but a gender gap does exist. They tend to be more educated than their male peers, and they represent a wide variety of businesses, but on the whole they earn, spend, own less and are less networked.

Maria Teresa Donate, an Associate Professor at Northampton Community College and Chair of the LEC, felt that the study represented a need for the continued and focused education of Latinos. Just over 45 percent of the professionals had earned a graduate degree and most (76 percent) had earned a bachelor’s degree. 

The importance of an education is transferred to their children, with 92 percent of business owners and 83 percent of the professionals ranking an education for their children as the highest priority in their household.  The majority of business owners (92 percent) have a high school degree, 26 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Eighty percent of Latinas (versus 63 percent of Latino men) have some college experience, technical training or higher.

"Our goal in commissioning this study was to present facts to the community on Latino business owners and professionals and their contribution to our economic prosperity in the region.  We hope that the community at large will look at these results and use it to guide their individual efforts in their respective organizations to continue to encourage Latino business growth," says David Vaida, of Vaida Law Offices who serves as Chair of the Office of Minority and Women-Owned Businesses and is former chair of the LEC Board.

The complete study results can be downloaded from the LVEDC website at http://www.lehighvalley.org/ (click on About/Publications) or on the Lehigh Valley Workforce Investment Board’s website at http://www.lvwib.org/

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