By Robin Doussard
Mirroring robust growth around the state, a burgeoning Latino population in Southern Oregon with growing purchasing power is spurring the growth of Hispanic-owned business in Jackson County.
From 2000 to 2010, the Latino population in Jackson County grew by almost 80% to about 22,000, and the number of Hispanic-owned firms grew from about 350 to 1,000. At the forefront of this is a new, highly motivated and educated group of Latino entrepreneurs like 34-year-old Hector Flores.
“We call ourselves the new breed in the Latino business world,” says Flores. He graduated from Southern Oregon University with a master’s in teaching and then worked in China for seven years. When he returned in 2009, he saw few things targeted to the Hispanic population; a previous Latino publication had dissolved. So he and his brother, Alfredo, founded Revista Caminos in 2009, a monthly Spanish-language magazine full of local, positive stories about the Hispanic community. “We immediately had enough advertising to pay for the initial costs,” says Flores, who is the editor. The magazine now has a print run of 5,000, and Flores says he is being asked to expand into Redding and Klamath Falls.
“Everyone is filling a niche,” says Flores of this new breed of Latino entrepreneur. “It’s collaborative and people are building networks of people. We’ve reached out to other Hispanic publications statewide to collaborate.” A Latino publication in Eugene was struggling, so the Flores brothers helped out; and they want to form a media alliance of other Hispanic publications in Oregon.
“It’s amazing what’s going on,” says Jessica Gomez, who founded with her husband in 2003 Rogue Valley Microdevices, a thriving business that employs 13. “What Hector is doing with Caminos is great. They are all about bringing the Hispanic community together.”
Flores estimates there are 50 Hispanic-owned businesses in Medford alone, and at least 100 in the greater Rogue Valley area. “From furniture shops to bakeries to nonprofits,” he says. “There is a huge push by Latino entrepreneurs.”
“When you have a recession like we’ve had, it forces people to be creative,” observes Gomez. “You have people who are now unemployed who are asking: What do we do? How do we survive? I think that’s a driving factor in economic development locally.”