Hispanic and Latino Americans launch businesses at higher rates than any other ethnic group in the country, with Latinas starting 50% of every new job, according to Stanford University.
Only 2% of nonprofit dollars go to Hispanic businesses and organizations, though, and these groups are least likely to complete higher education or receive startup funding.
The number of Hispanic and Latinos in Beaver, Lawrence and Allegheny counties are soaring compared to a decade ago, according to 2020 United States Census Bureau data. Community leaders are stressing the importance of economic access and visibility as the region, and country, becomes more diverse.
Pennsylvania’s overall population rose by more than 300,300 since 2010, with Hispanic/Latino communities representing the largest increase. Statewide, this demographic rose by 45.8% from the previous decade, adding 329,955 people.
Beaver County’s Hispanic population grew to 3,611 people – an 80.7% increase. Lawrence and Allegheny counties grew by 77.7% and 80%, respectively.
Melanie Marie Boyer, executive director for the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said it’s vital, more than ever, to elevate business and educational opportunities for Hispanics in the Pittsburgh region. Educating the public on their invaluable community contributions, too, is an ongoing priority.
“These Latinos are making positive strides in the areas of all lives,” Boyer said.
Many have come to America for better opportunities, she said, including employment, political stability or rebuilding after a natural disaster.
Boyer said the amount of Hispanic/Latino-owned businesses in the area has “exploded” in the past 10 years. No matter where in Pittsburgh you go, she said, there are bound to be multiple businesses from Hispanic/Latino owners.
The chamber is building a variety of programs for area Hispanics, including a “business success academy,” and a mentoring program for aspiring entrepreneurs that imparts skills such as resume writing and salary negotiations.
They have also given more than $250,000 in scholarships to students in the Pittsburgh area since 2011.
“We are people that are working hard for a better community for all,” Boyer said.
A Beaver County perspective
When it comes to Beaver County, Nahum Martinez believes a good portion of the Hispanic/Latino population that settled here in recent years did so for economic opportunity and jobs.
Martinez is the pastor for Comunidad Cristiana Hispana Church at 161 Gertrude St. in Chippewa Township, the first Spanish-speaking church in the county.
Martinez said the church began offering prayers online in January 2020, and officially opened to the public in November 2020.
It was opened to provide a place of community and worship, he said, a “home away from home,” for Hispanics who left behind family in their home country.
Martinez said much of his congregation originates from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and countries in Central America like Honduras, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic.
Members live throughout the county, in places like Chippewa, Beaver Falls, Beaver, Ambridge, Ellwood City and Aliquippa.
Often, members of his congregation want to be involved in the community.
“I think everyone likes it,” Martinez said, referring to living in Beaver County.
Going forward, Martinez wants to help the Hispanic community in any way he can, be it assisting with job searches or providing English lessons.
A Lawrence County perspective
Lawrence County Commissioner Loretta Spielvogel said a large portion of the Hispanic population who came into the county did so from Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Many arrived from rural areas – with multiple dialects – and not from bigger cities like San Juan. She added they are trying to raise families and join the community.
United Way of Lawrence County Executive Director Gayle Young said the families, after Hurricane Maria, were originally brought by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to emergency shelters in states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
Once funding for the shelters ended, families were brought to places like western Pennsylvania for the ample Section 8 housing, particularly in rural towns.
“That’s why we had such an influx of families coming here, because of affordable housing,” Young said. “Otherwise, they would have been homeless if they didn’t come to our area.”
Young said the emigration process from Puerto Rico was “traumatic” for these families, and still is in many ways.
Despite working with legislators, relocation funding wasn’t made available, prompting United Way to fundraise the costs itself.
Young also said the language barrier was, and still is, a problem.
“We had issues finding classes for them because at that time Lawrence County didn’t even have ESL classes,” Young said.
Some incorrectly thought they were not U.S. citizens, despite Puerto Rico being an American territory.
Eventually, the United Way was able to raise funding for ESL classes through Slippery Rock University.
Young said the United Way opened a store in Lawrence Village Plaza, in Shenango Township, where people have donated clothes and other helpful items for them.
She said the United Way continues to help the families with preparing and finding them work, getting the children ready and registered for school, helping with transportation for work, helping them keep up with their medical appointments, hosting health and wellness events and helping them with matters such as voting and filling out the census.
Young said the families of the families are continuing to come in, as she said the Hispanic/Latino population has tripled in the last couple of years.
Most of the families live in New Castle, though some live in communities like Ellwood City.
One of the people that was key in helping the families is Maria Delgado.
She works full-time in the U.S. Department of Human Services, and in 2020, was appointed to the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs (GACLA) for Lawrence County.
The GACLA is a commission to advise the governor on policies and legislation that impact Latino communities, and to ensure that Latinos are given the opportunity to thrive in community development, have education, equal rights and equal opportunities, provide workforce and have equal access to health and social services in the state.
“She does work with a lot of the families,” Young said.
She said even though the United Way of Lawrence County has a staff of two, they continue to work and help the families as best as they can.
“They appreciate us fighting for them because it has been a fight,” Young said. “They appreciate the United Way fighting for their rights and getting the services that they need.”
She said despite a few families returning to Puerto Rico, the majority of them wish to stay due to the rural area of the county, which is similar to where they used to live.
Young said if the language barrier issues are resolved, more of them would be able and willing to work in the county to provide more economic opportunities to the community.