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Hispanic C of C Is at Home in U.S. Heartland

Charles Hillinger's America

December 12, 1986|CHARLES HILLINGER | Times Staff Writer

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One might expect to find headquarters for the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio or some other Latino center.

But Kansas City?

Being the heartland of America, Kansas City is headquarters for many trade associations, explained Hector Barreto, founder and president of the 50,000-member organization of Latino businesses.

"Hispanic-owned businesses are in every state," said Barreto, 50, a self-made millionaire. "And, anyway, this happens to be my home."

Recently released figures from the U.S. Commerce Department showed that 248,141 Latino-owned firms had $15 billion in sales in 1982. Barreto estimates there are now "more than 500,000 Hispanic-owned companies in the United States with total sales of about $17.5 billion."

Barreto is a member of the White House Small Business Task Force and sits on numerous national and local policy-making committees.

Twenty-eight years ago he was a migrant worker from Guadalajara, Mexico, picking potatoes on a farm near Corning, Mo., for 80 cents an hour. He could not speak a word of English.

Barreto went from farm worker to laying railroad tracks to a Kansas City packinghouse to school custodian before starting his own business, a small cafe in Kansas City.

"I didn't know anything about running a restaurant, but I was willing to learn and work hard," he recalled.

Today, Barreto owns three restaurants in Kansas City, an import-export firm, a tile company and a construction company. He founded the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in 1979.

Each year since 1980 the chamber has held a national convention attracting Latino business owners, presidents of major corporations and political leaders.

Vice President George Bush spoke before 3,000 attending the 1982 convention in Chicago. The following year President Reagan addressed 4,000 conventioneers in Tampa, Fla. The 1987 national convention will be held in Los Angeles in September.

Heaviest Concentration

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, in 1984 the Los Angeles-Long Beach area had the heaviest concentration of Latino-owned firms in the nation--29,982 companies with total sales in excess of $1.716 billion.

Next was Miami with 24,898 firms and total sales of $2.236 billion; third, New York City-New Jersey with 12,292 companies and $881 million in sales, and, fourth, San Antonio with 10,341 firms doing $544 million in sales.

"Hispanic-owned business is the best-kept secret in the United States," Barreto said. "The idea of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is to have a strong organization speaking for Hispanics, getting Hispanics into the mainstream of America.

"Our goal is to gain the respect of political leaders and open up avenues of communication with large corporations, to make sure large corporations are aware of the Hispanic-owned companies and hire a fair proportion of Hispanic workers."

Fast-Growing Minority

Barreto noted that Latinos are the nation's fastest-growing minority. "There were 14.6 million Hispanics in the U.S. in 1980 and nearly 20 million estimated today," he said.

In addition to its headquarters, which occupies the seventh floor of the Kansas City Board of Trade Center, the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has offices in Washington and regional offices in Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York and at 510 West 6th St. in Los Angeles. Paul R. Martinez, Western regional manager, heads the Southern California office.

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