In the vibrant and growing Nevada economy, one of the key factors has long been diversity. As Nevada and this country look to the future, it is apparent that diversity will have an even greater impact.
Yet, while diversity is important, defining it is a challenge. Dictionary definitions are of little help, and people seem to form their own ideas about what it means. It’s indisputable that the United States has always been a “nation of immigrants.” Today, the immigration tide is dominated by Hispanics. In Clark County, they comprise 25.7 percent of the population, according to the 2007 Perspective published annually by the Metropolitan Research Association. The Clark County School District reports 38.8 percent of its students are Hispanic, the district’s largest ethnic group. Hispanics are the “majority minority.” The Reno-Sparks MSA Hispanic population is 81,510, as recorded by the Nevada State Demographer in 2005. The Washoe County School District reports 31.6 percent of its students are Hispanic.
Unquestionably, Hispanics are changing the face of America, as well as Nevada. They also are changing the economy and the way business is done as their buying power approaches $1 trillion, according to Chrysanthe Georges, president of Georges Marketing and a specialist in marketing to Hispanics.
Gaming, banking, utilities and other Nevada companies are acting accordingly. An acknowledged leader in diversity is the MGM MIRAGE, named by DiversityInc last year among the “Top 50” corporations in the U.S. for diversity implementation. “MGM MIRAGE has become a major player in the diversity arena. It is much different from the average corporation; it is a true champion of diversity,” said DiversityInc.
The foundation of the megaresorts’s diversity program is called the Diversity Initiative. When it was launched in 2000, it started MGM MIRAGE on an evolutionary journey that governs every aspect of its operations. Punam Mathur, senior vice president of corporate diversity and community affairs, said a shared common understanding is needed when talking about diversity. At MGM MIRAGE, she noted, the Diversity Initiative is first and foremost a two-part business imperative. The first part relates to the company’s workforce. “It’s simple math,” she explained, using a sports analogy. “With 77 million baby boomers expecting to exit the workforce through retirement in the years ahead – and with only 43 million workers sitting on the bench waiting to take the field – the new challenge for employers is that there won’t be one-for-one substitution available on the field. For us, the challenge is to determine what can we do to be worthy of attracting, engaging and retaining talent.”
The second part, added Mathur, is that the company has 70,000 employees, of whom 50 percent represent diverse populations. “As a publicly traded company, MGM MIRAGE has a fiduciary obligation to its shareholders, who will never make a bigger investment than in our people,” she said, noting the company has an annual payroll of nearly $3 billion. “As stewards of this company, we will have no higher responsibility than to create a culture for a diverse staff numbering 70,000 where 100 percent of our employees can arrive ready, willing and able to make a full contribution. It’s our employees who determine the performance of the company.”
Of course, MGM Mirage’s steadfast commitment to diversity is not confined to its staff. The company also recognizes the importance of appealing to, and subsequently pleasing its diverse client markets. Mathur said the gaming giant must not only deliver a warm invitation to its customers who come from across the world, but must also follow through with the promise it makes to them.
The Hispanic market is the fastest growing and largest market segment in the country. It is characterized by increasing educational levels and rapidly rising income. Yet this market comprises more than 20 different countries, making it more heterogeneous than homogenous, a trait shared with other ethnically described markets, such as the Asian market, which also comprises dozens of often dissimilar countries and cultures.
Georges, who is recognized nationwide for her knowledge of the Hispanic market, has been helping clients tap this vast and growing market since 2001. She said few companies targeted Hispanics then, and credits the telecommunications industry for leading the way. “They started marketing prepaid calling cards to Latinos who were calling home to Mexico and Latin America,” she recalled. “They may not have been documented; they many not have been legal; but they didn’t need an address, green card or bank account – just a prepaid calling card.”
Georges said it’s only in the last few years that businesses have begun to recognize the huge buying power of Hispanics. Although she has only a handful of Nevada clients, her client list has included corporate giants such as Sprint, Bank of America, Kaiser Permanente, Time Warner and Pacific Bell.
With a median family income of $46,197, Hispanic families in Clark County are well below the county’s overall median household income of $53,111, according to the 2007 Perspective. Yet 65.7 percent of Hispanics own their homes and their median age is only 38.4 compared to 47.5 years for all of Clark County. This should put them squarely in the bull’s eye for most product advertising which typically targets the 18 to 36 age group, said Georges.
“Hispanics are here to stay,” she said. “They have established themselves as an important part of society as they make their homes here, tap our social services and send their children to school. We need to recognize and embrace the fact that they are here.”
Georges believes that country of origin is secondary to acculturation when marketing to Hispanics. More specifically, the stage of acculturation is the most important criterion describing her target audience is in. Unlike assimilation, in which immigrants are absorbed into or adopt the overall fabric of American society, acculturation measures how strongly they identify with their heritage even as they adapt to the customs of their new country. Latinos overall are assimilating very well, but their ethnic identification remains strong. This is reiterated by Otto Merida, president and chief executive officer of the Latin Chamber of Commerce, who said Hispanics don’t want their children to lose their Spanish heritage as they assimilate into America. Unfortunately, he noted, many Hispanic parents are seeing their children lose or deny on their heritage, especially the ability to converse in Spanish, their native tongue.
He explained that many older Hispanics moved to Nevada from New Mexico and Texas where they never spoke Spanish because they feared discrimination. As a result, they speak English without a Spanish accent.
Compared to Europe, the United States is language deficient, since so few U.S. citizens speak anything other than English, said Merida, pointing out that many Europeans speak multiple languages. “Globalization is here and we are not prepared for it,” he said, adding that the world has crossed a threshold in which China is not only a military power, but an economic power. “The more languages Americans speak, including Spanish, the better we will be able to compete in the global marketplace,” he explained.
According to Merida, the U.S. should partner with Latin America so it can better compete with new economic powers China, Russia and the European Union. “The 40 million U.S. Hispanics can play a crucial role in developing such a partnership because they can bridge the United States with Latin America,” said Merida, who was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. in 1961 as a refugee with his parents.
The mission of the 1,500-member Latin Chamber is to develop, advance and promote Hispanics and small businesses, and to enhance the economic, political, social, educational and cultural interests of Hispanics in Nevada. It emphasizes working with Nevada companies to increase the products and services they purchase their purchasing from the state’s 7,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.
Startup businesses – Hispanic and non-Hispanic alike – often fail because the owners begin with only a dream, but lack understanding of regulations, taxes, permits and business plans. The Latin Chamber works to improve their success rate by offering training and education seminars, workshops, business expos, mixers and luncheons. Through its Latino Youth Leadership Conference, it hopes to empower Latino youth by fostering leadership skills, instilling cultural, community and family values, and encouraging the pursuit of higher education.
Together with the Urban Chamber of Commerce, the Latin Chamber administers the Valley Center Opportunity Zone (VCOZ), which was established by the Nevada Legislature to improve the business environment and create economic impact in certain areas of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas. Operated as a community development corporation, VCOZ manages the program that administers $1 million in grant funds awarded by the state. Entrepreneurs can apply for grants to use as leverage with banks when seeking loans.
It is nearly impossible to determine the true impact of Hispanic diversity in anything other than general terms. Partly responsible is the existence of the 12 million or so illegal immigrants in the U.S. Little has been done to measure their impact, positive or negative. In a July multipart series on illegal immigration by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the newspaper noted that “no one has comprehensively measured the public costs or benefits associated with illegal immigrants in Nevada.” In many respects, that is true of legal Hispanic immigrants as well.
Even on the Latin Chamber’s Web site, much of the data is from a 1997 economic census and the remainder from the 2000 U.S. Census. With Nevada’s explosive growth, combining data collected a decade ago with statistics from the 2000 Census offers numbers of little value without current information to use for comparison and analysis.
Questioned about its Hispanic-derived revenue, either in dollars or percentages, even Mathur of the MGM MIRAGE was unable to help. “I wish I could actually, but we don’t track customers that way.” She reiterated, however, that the Hispanic market is incredibly important to the MGM MIRAGE and to the entire state of Nevada.
Mathur, Georges and Merida agree that immigration reform is badly needed and that the federal government must take strong steps to stop the flow of illegal immigrants. They also feel, however, that it is impractical, if not impossible, to round up and deport the 12 million illegal immigrants already on U.S. soil. Instead, they see the need for a pathway to citizenship by which those here illegally could become highly productive citizens.
Tom Rodriguez, executive manager of diversity and affirmative actions programs for the Clark County School District, is the grandson of immigrants. In an article for the Latin Chamber’s newsletter, he noted a growing backlash among angry Americans who feel that illegal immigrants should be arrested and forcibly deported. He explained, however, that the children of these immigrants, like himself, speak English, obey our laws, aspire to higher education, and one day soon, will become taxpayers and American citizens of the highest order.
Rodriguez described his family’s experience, noting that his paternal and maternal grandparents and his parents immigrated here illegally from Mexico. Over the years, they worked hard, persevered and in time became loyal American citizens.