Green Can Grow Latino Business Ownership

By Jorge Madrid

Latinos are launching new businesses at greater rates than ever – more than double the rate of all new U.S. businesses from 2002-2007, according to a new census report.  These firms generated over $345 billion in sales in 2007 alone.  And while many must certainly feel the strain of the current economic recession – it is clear that an entrepreneurial spark drives many U.S. Latinos.

Enter the clean energy economy.

Clean energy is an industry that is projected to experience significant growth in the medium/long-term future, despite the presence of a potent national recession.  Public policy has led the way.  The Obama administration committed $32 billion to clean energy in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act; The Bush administration approved the Green Jobs Act in 2007, which authorized $125 million in green-collar job training opportunities; and legislation like HOMESTAR, could give the struggling manufacturing and construction industry a sizable boost.

Private capital is already on board, with venture capital for clean energy topping $2.2 billion last year, nearly 13% of all venture deals.  Much of this activity is centered on research and innovation occurring in California’s Silicon Valley – also the birthplace of the internet and information technology revolution.  One issue of need is for banks to begin lending again to further generate capital needed for business growth.  Once all of this private capital is unlocked, businesses can thrive.

All of this potential should have would-be Latino entrepreneurs excited.  The clean energy economy is about so much more than generating wind and solar power.  An entire supply chain will be needed to really make the industry grow.  New businesses can range from manufacturing and assembly, to shipment and distribution, along with sales and marketing, and many other niche categories in between.  This also includes energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits, water-saving plumbing and landscape, and even home energy auditing and green real estate appraisal.

It has not been an easy road, but policy and capital will continue to align with growing consumer demand – via financial incentives, tax breaks, emerging eco-consciousness, and a bottom line desire to see lower energy bills.  The growth ceiling for clean energy deployment seems limitless, with more than a billion roofs in the U.S., and the Saudi Arabia of sun and wind distributed throughout our country.

Latino businesses must be part of the game in capturing the demand for clean energy products and services.  The ‘green jobs’ that will result from the growing deployment of clean energy can help many Latino families reach the middle class, especially low/medium-skill workers with education and language barriers.  However, this is an incomplete economic growth strategy.  For Latinos to truly share in the wealth created by the clean energy economy of the future, business ownership must be a strong part of the picture.

Jorge Madrid is a research associate for the Energy Policy Team at the Center for American Progress. Prior to joining the DC think tank, he has worked as a legislative fellow in the office of Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), an advisor to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Task Force on Climate Change and the Green Economy, and on the clean technology economic development team for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Jorge has a dual master’s degree in urban planning and public administration from the University of Southern California.  He is originally from East Los Angeles, CA.

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