The past 10 years have yielded a changed business and political climate for Nevadans. The 1990 census counted just over 124,000 Hispanic residents in Nevada, or roughly 10 percent of the state population. With the astronomical growth of the Silver State in the decade from 1990 to 2000 has come a corresponding increase in the Latin population. Hispanic residents of Nevada in 2000 accounted for 19.7 percent, or approximately 394,000 of the state’s nearly 2 million residents (an increase of 218 percent for the period), while the white population of the state virtually stood still at 75 percent. Some have even suggested that these figures may reflect an undercount of Hispanics. Clark County experienced the largest growth in Hispanic population of the state’s 17 counties: from 83,000 in 1990 to just over 302,000 in 2000 — an increase of 267 percent. Among Latinos who are registered to vote in Nevada, Democrats outstrip Republican voters 3 to 1. Of the 11.6 million registered Latino voters, 63 percent are registered Democrats and 20 percent are registered Republicans.
It is easy to recognize this growing Hispanic influence in the new businesses that have opened in the last few years. Many new specialty Latin restaurants and Spanish video stores are evident throughout Nevada, as well as HispanicH businesses that cater to all Nevadans. This trend is most evident in the popularity of Mexican food in Nevada, and not simply tacos or burritos: non-Hispanics are patronizing “mom and pop” Mexican restaurants in large numbers, restaurants that were once almost exclusively ethnic domain. More and more non-Hispanic Nevadans are aware of the significance of Cinco de Mayo and join in the festivities.
Latin businesses often have a fiercely loyal Latin customer base. This is not simply a matter of shopping where other Latinos shop, but primarily due to the value-added services often provided by businesses such as the Video Centro Mini-Mart in Carson City. According to proprietor Elsa Martinez, “You see all of these products in the big stores, but we cater to [customers] and assist them in improving their quality of life by doing things the big stores don’t do.” Among these are: wire money transfers, notary services and help with minor translations such as understanding a utility bill.
In 1987 the Small Business Administration reported that Nevada had 1,767 Hispanic businesses, ranking Nevada number 20 among the 50 states in the number of Latin businesses in comparison with all other businesses in the state. By 1992, just five years later, there were 3,900 such businesses in Nevada, giving it a ranking of 16. Current figures are not yet available for 1992 to date.
Schools, government agencies and service organizations of all kinds have also experienced changes in the way they do business because of the increase in Hispanics. Bilingual programs in schools — as well as in domestic service organizations and agencies — are now commonplace. Many non-Spanish speaking workers in these organizations are realizing a critical need to learn Spanish to communicate with patrons and clients alike. Consequently, the colleges, universities and high schools of the state have seen an increase in enrollment in Spanish classes by non-Hispanics. The ability to speak Spanish can be a plus for anyone who works in the marketplace, or provides governmental and other types of services today.
To help cope with these demographic changes, all business and government leaders must take the initiative to foster cultural awareness, and provide easier access for the Hispanics of this state to businesses and services. If entrepreneurs fail to accommodate the growing Spanish population, they will run a certain risk of losing a substantial market that now exists. If governmental agencies, particularly schools, fail to provide adequately for Hispanics, they, too, will face a risk of being mandated by either the federal government or the courts to make those services more available to Hispanics.
A number of entities have been created to provide assistance to Hispanics and others to cope with the increasing Latin population. These services can be a resource not only for Hispanics, but also for all those who want to overcome cultural barriers and challenges in order to reach the Latin market. Working together to face the challenges this growth has created is a priority for all businesses and governments in the Silver State. Success with this challenge will come with appropriate planning and mutual cooperation.