News Column

Symbolism with a Bottom Line

July/August 2001

By Leigh Miller, HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine

State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey.
State Rep. Stephanie Stuckey.

--> Hispanic companies in Georgia qualify as minority-owned firms, thanks to a new law.

For years, Georgia's economy has relied on Hispanic entrepreneurs, but has "only wanted to see Hispanics' hands, not their faces," according to Teodoro Maus, chairman of the board of directors for Atlanta's Mexican American Business Chamber.

But recent legislation has put a face on the Hispanic economy in Georgia. In April, Governor Roy Barnes signed a state law designating Hispanics as an official minority group, recognizing what he heralded as "the great impact of the Hispanic community in Georgia."

The law marks a triumph of symbolism, according to the Latin American Association of Atlanta (LAA). It also offers tangible benefits. Companies with state contracts now have an incentive to subcontract with Hispanic firms because they receive $6,000 in tax breaks for subcontracting with minority-owned businesses. African Americans, Asians, and Native Americans were already considered minorities.

CEO Irene Bledel of Environmental Resource Process Management in Atlanta believes such incentives will boost Hispanics' role in Georgia's public-service sector. She first brought the issue to the attention of the Georgia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (GHCC) two years ago after she tried to apply for a state contract as a female Hispanic CEO and discovered no such category existed. "The state's use of Hispanic contractors was very limited," she recalls. "There was a perception that if the state did not see us as a minority, there was no point in bidding for those contracts. And if we were not considered a minority, firms had no incentive to hire us."

In FY2000, less than 30 state contracts in Georgia involved minority firms, none known to be Hispanic. "The new law will change this," projects Anna Cablik, CEO of the construction firm Anatek Inc. in Atlanta. "It is a chance for Hispanic companies to demonstrate their abilities, and then they can generate more business."

At a time when Hispanics are strengthening their political clout around the nation, the Georgia law symbolizes a major milestone. The campaign to pressure state lawmakers into approval brought together numerous Hispanic groups and demonstrated the power of a unified Hispanic community in the state. Diverse Hispanic groups, including the LAA, the GHCC, binational Hispanic chambers of commerce, and foreign consulates in Atlanta, joined Hispanic companies to pledge their support.

Beginning with a "Latino Capitol Day," the LAA and GHCC headed a campaign to promote the bill's passage, encouraging Governor Barnes to push for its adoption. The effort even went online when the state House of Representatives tabled it late in the session. The governor later attached it to a Senate bill that the House eventually approved.

Hispanic inclusion under the Georgia statute quickly became a national cause. The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce called an urgent press conference in Atlanta to proclaim support. It cited Census 2000 data warranting Hispanics' equal opportunity. Of the 500 largest Hispanic companies in the United States, 11 are located in Georgia (see June 2000 issue). Hispanic buying power in Georgia is nearly $5 billion, and six of Atlanta's top 25 minority-owned firms are owned by Hispanics.

"This campaign was a lesson for our whole community," says Silvia Barron, executive director of the Mexican American Business Chamber in Atlanta. "We combined efforts to get this result, regardless of who started or ended the movement. The challenge now is for all Hispanic organizations to continue what we have begun."

State Representative Stephanie Stuckey, author of the bill, feels its passage "shows the Hispanic business community's political muscle." By winning this battle, she believes, Hispanics will have more clout to take on other issues at local and broader levels.

The new Georgia statute even has international significance, because it may encourage more foreign firms to invest in Georgia. In the words of the governor's office, a state that has "opened its arms for all" would be a "carrot for international companies to locate here." While Georgia's infrastructure such as its international airport is an important component of attracting foreign money, there is a need for social and cultural infrastructure to support international business with Latin America, according to the LAA.



Source: HISPANIC BUSINESS magazine


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