Utah businesses adapting to Hispanic population growth

Latinos account for 78 percent of state's growth

Published: Tuesday, May 31 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Alexandra Ortiz, Sheila Ortiz, Jilyan Ortiz and their father Luis Ortiz shop at Smith's in Salt Lake City on Saturday, May 28, 2011.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Hispanics accounted for more than half of the total U.S. population increase between 2000 and 2010, with the Hispanic population growing at four times the overall growth rate, according to a new Census Bureau report.

In Utah, the overall population grew 23.8 percent during that decade, with Hispanics accounting for 77.8 percent of that growth.

Aside from the ongoing debate about immigration, the population shift has the business community adapting to a changing clientele.

"Hispanics spend $6.5 billion in Utah each year," said Patricia Dark, the editor of El Observador de Utah, the Spanish-language newspaper launched by the Deseret News in February 2010. "A year ago, we had zero readers and zero advertisers. Now, we have 60,000 readers a week in the Salt Lake Valley and major advertising accounts" that include R.C. Willey, the Larry H. Miller group, Wells Fargo, Zions Bank and Ivory Homes.

Dark said businesses have been skeptical about spending advertising dollars in the Hispanic market, "but they are shocked at the huge response they're getting from their ads."

"Zions Bank has been aggressively involved in the Hispanic/Latino market since 2004," said Juancarlos Judd, senior vice president and diverse markets director. "It's a market we already knew was there, and we are competitively trying to get their business."

Verizon Wireless spokesman Bob Kelley said a larger share of the communication giant's promotions budget is focused on the Hispanic market. "It is definitely a growing proportion of our spending."

Change is also evident inside the company, like at Verizon's 1,300-employee call center in West Valley City. "As we recruit new employees at both our retail stores and our call centers, bilingual speaking — English, Spanish — is a major benefit that we look for in employees," Kelley said.

"Likewise with our collateral materials — our websites, our advertising — an increasing proportion of our investment dollars are going into Spanish language or bilanguage material."

Awareness of the ongoing surge in the Hispanic population is evident by the increase in the number of specialty markets — and major grocery store chains such as Smith's Food and Drug stores.

While many grocery items will be the same in every Smith's location, stores in neighborhoods with a large Hispanic population will have significantly more items of interest to Hispanic customers.

The Rose Park store, for example, commits a significant portion of floor space at the front of the store to fresh vegetables that are staple grocery items for Hispanics, as well as brands of cookies and sodas, imported from Mexico, primarily of interest to Hispanic customers.

Store staffing reflects neighborhood shoppers as well. "More than half of our front-end baggers and checkers are Spanish speaking," said Marsha Gilford, vice president of public affairs for Smith's Food and Drug stores.

"Communities are changing. Our community is changing. And we want to make sure that Smith's is their destination for items they need for their families and their traditions," she said.

The Utah scenario is reflective of changes throughout the U.S., with the Hispanic population growing in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the Census Bureau reports.

The Mexican-origin population represented the largest Hispanic group in 40 states, with more than half of these states in the South and West.

Email: sfidel@desnews.com

Twitter: SteveFidel

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