As Latin American populations grow, the state also sees more small businesses

The Latin American population is the fastest growing in the state, leading places like Arcadia – a small town in Trempealeau County – to see a marked increase in the number of Latino-owned businesses, like salons. hairdressers and restaurants.

Emanuel Montalvo runs a hair clipper through the back of a client’s head, then repeats the movement more slowly, meticulously sliding the device up, staring intently at his work.

A moment later, he moves to his boss’s side and guides the mower in short strokes, shaving small chunks of hair off the man’s head. He stops, asks the man a quick question, then returns to his work, etching the hairline upward.

Another customer enters and another barber leads him to another chair further back. As cheerful Latin music plays over the store’s audio system, the two barbers continue to cut their hair on a recent afternoon at the Lounge Barbershop in downtown Arcadia, a town in Trempealeau County. ‘approximately 3,000 inhabitants. Once a rarity, Latino-owned businesses are growing and helping to support an economy in Arcadia as other small and less diverse communities struggle.

“So far there has been a demand for what we’re doing here,” said Montalvo, who started the barber shop two years ago with a business partner. “There are more (Latinos) moving here, so we thought we could start this business and make it work.”

For years, Arcadia’s Latino population has primarily worked at Arcadia’s two largest employers, Ashley Furniture and the Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant, and on dairy farms in west-central Wisconsin. But as the city’s Latino population continues to grow, a growing number of Latino-owned businesses are now part of the city’s landscape.

Make a house in Arcadia

Today, The Lounge Barbershop is one of 20 Latino-owned businesses in Arcadia, bringing together restaurants, grocery stores, clothing stores, auto repair garage, food trucks and more.

“I remember when there was only one Latino-owned grocery store,” said Teresa Sanchez, who moved with her family to Arcadia from Georgia in 2007, from a women’s clothing store as her mother. Latin American owns. “That was it. Now we have four grocery stores, half a dozen restaurants, a bunch of food trucks and other businesses.”

This transformation is made possible because Arcadia’s Latino presence has grown large enough to support these services. According to 2020 statistics, 46.7% of the city’s population is Latino. The Arcadia school district has around 75% Latinos, and that figure is around 85% in elementary school.

Figures from the US Census Bureau show that Arcadia is not alone in seeing a growing increase in the number of Latino residents. Currently, at least 447,290 Latinos live in Badger State, a figure experts say is almost certainly higher due to an undercoverage of this population in the last census.

RELATED: From Farms to Factories to New Businesses, Latinos have shaped Wisconsin’s economy for over a century

A Latino family is spending time together at a Latino-owned women’s clothing store in downtown Arcadia on October 12. Almost half of the city’s 3,000 residents are Latinos. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

In fact, the Latin American population is the fastest growing in the state, overtaking other ethnicities. In 2010, Latinos made up 5.9% of Wisconsin residents; today that figure is 7.6%. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of Latinos in Wisconsin increased by 33.1%, according to census figures, while the black population increased by 4.8% and the white population decreased by 3.4%.

This increase in population has sparked a demand in many communities for more Latino food, clothing and other products and services, leading to a shift towards more Latino-owned businesses in many areas, said experts who study the Latin American population of Wisconsin. While many Latinos continue to work in labor-intensive industries such as manufacturing, meat packaging, canneries and dairy farms, more and more are choosing to start their own businesses.

Wausau companies

In central Wisconsin, much of the Latin American population boom is happening due to the availability of jobs at meat processor Abbyland Foods in Abbotsford, and other Latinos are working on dairy farms there. . However, as more Latinos move to the region, more and more people are starting their own businesses, catering for the needs of groceries, restaurants and other services, said Tony Gonzalez, coordinator of the Hispanic community for the Hmong and Hispanic Community Network (H2N) in Wausau.

When he moved to Wausau in 2012, Gonzalez remembers two Mexican restaurants in the city. Today there are eight or nine in the region, he said, along with many other Latino-owned businesses.

“As more and more Hispanics settle here, you see this transition to more of them starting their own businesses,” he said of the region which is home to around 4,000. Latinos. “I think that’s something we’re going to see continue.”

This trend has been happening longer in the Milwaukee area and other parts of southeastern Wisconsin where Latinos first settled in the state, said Armando Ibarra, a professor at UW- Madison who studies the demography of Wisconsin. Over the past 100 years or so, as Latinos have spread to other regions for jobs in manufacturing and agriculture, their growing numbers have created a demand for other services, spurring the growth of owned businesses. to Latinos, he said.

Given the relatively high birth rate of Latinos compared to other ethnic groups and their continued spread throughout Wisconsin, this trend is expected to continue to grow in the future, he said.

“We have a demographic shift that is changing our profile in our state, the same shift that is happening across the United States,” Ibarra said. “When you look at how many young Latinos there are in Wisconsin, you get an idea of ​​what this state will look like more and more in the future.”

A Latino worker milks cows on John Rosenow’s Buffalo County dairy farm. Rosenow and many other Wisconsin dairy farmers say they couldn’t run their farms without Latino employees. (Photo by Julian Emerson)

A critical workforce

Buffalo County dairy farmer John Rosenow hired his first Mexican farm worker in 1998 when he struggled to find enough employees to milk his cows and do the other chores needed to run his farm. Today, half of the 20 workers on his farm are Latinos. Rosenow said her farm and many others couldn’t go on without them.

“There are no other options for farmers. They should stop their operations, ”he said.

Likewise, Rosenow said, Ashley, Pilgrim’s Pride and other companies would struggle to find enough workers without the increase in the number of Latinos in the region. Without the influx of Latino students, enrollment in the Arcadia School District would only be a quarter of its current figure. At a time when many small towns in Wisconsin are struggling to attract and retain people, Arcadia is growing and joining its community.

“Downtown Arcadia would be a ghost town if it weren’t for the 20 or so businesses that cater to immigrants,” Rosenow said of new residents to the area. “This community wouldn’t be what it is without Latinos.

As more Latinos move to Arcadia and Wisconsin, Montalvo said more businesses like his are expected to spring up to meet the demands of the growing population. As he finished cutting a client’s hair, his phone rang as another client searched to make an appointment.

“We certainly stay busy,” he said. “I think there will be enough customers for all of us.”

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