News Column

Top Hispanic-owned Green Cos. Remain Optimistic

June 18, 2008

Jeff Wuorio

Top Hispanic-owned Green Cos. Remain Optimistic

This year, for the first time, Hispanic Business magazine is tracking the top Hispanic-owned 'green' businesses, while keeping a finger on the pulse of this rapidly evolving industry. Of the Hispanic Business 500 companies, at least 13 are significantly involved with environmental restoration, cleanup, engineering, or management of some other type of green enterprise.

While this is a fairly modest number, it will likely expand rapidly in the near future. The green evolution is just taking root throughout the Hispanic economy. Like traditional companies, they are being tested by the current economy, but the leadership of these green companies remains resolutely optimistic about the future, although they also face some substantial challenges.

Lack Of Skilled Employees
Hispanic green leaders agree that their greatest day-to-day challenge is staffingórecruiting and hiring qualified personnel, particularly as green-related firms expand. "Lack of qualified personnel is easily our biggest challenge," says Jose Morales of J2 Engineering Inc., a Tampa-based engineering and environmental services concern. "We continue to advertise and constantly search for personnel that fit our corporate culture. It is a 24-hour, seven-days-per-week issue that we must continually address. If we want to grow and expand, we must give it one of the highest priorities in our strategic plans."

Rod Vargas of Apex Environmental Engineering and Compliance in Orlando, agrees. " In the environmental field there is a great need for trained personnel regardless of their ethnic background," he says. "But I see Hispanics taking positions of responsibility as they move up through the ranks. There's a greater sense of environmental responsibility as environmental education takes root." The prevailing hope is that trained personnel will become less of an issue as environmental education and training become more firmly established in the higher educational system.

Hesitant Financing
Although green is beginning to bloom, several green business leaders suggested that more traditional financing entities continue to be hesitant about providing funding to underwrite that growth. That, says Mr. Vargas, means the green community will have to work harder to show traditional funding sources, like banks, the financial efficiencies of their business enterprises."I haven't seen green being fully embraced by many companies mainly due to the lack of understanding by financial institutions and other lenders," Mr. Vargas adds. "Until then, venture capital money will come from private groups and much more slowly from established financial institutions." Many of the venture dollars are coming from the Silicon Valley area, where investors are putting tens of millions into alternative energy and other cleantech efforts.

Of course, green companies are not immune to the current economic downturn. The one insulator under President George W. Bush seems to be Department of Defense contracts. "We're primarily a defense contractor, and that's a hot market in the Southeast," says Mr. Morales. Those without such contracts report a noticeable pullback as developers, builders and others struggle with the faltering housing market.

"The business drivers are still there, but we are seeing a slowdown in people considering new projects," says Edward Martinez of Zia Engineering & Environmental Consultants in Las Cruces, New Mexico. "It's one of our biggest obstaclesówe service multiple entities, and we've seen a lot of belt tightening of late."

All agree, though, that in one form or another, green products and services will continue to move into the mainstream. "I think green is here to stay," says Mr. Morales. "In the next 15 years, green will be the standard to live by in the services we provide and in the equipment we use. For example, we currently have over 35 company vehicles. Within the next five years, as we replace those vehicles and add new ones to our fleet, we'll all be using hybrids or electric. They're simply more efficient."

Changing The World
"I don't feel being green has anything to do with someone's ethnic culture," says Mr. Morales. "Being green has everything to do with changing the way the world operates. Americans have been thought as wasteful people by other nations, but I also feel that we're known as leaders. If our culture is to be green, we will change the world to be a better place; Hispanics, like any other ethnic culture, will join in because it's the right thing to do.

"At the same time, they are making money doing it. That's because business is driven by simple economics, which is lining up in favor of 'green,' says Gabino Cuevas of Cherokee Enterprises, a Miami environmental and civil engineering firm. "When water costs next to nothing, we didn't conserve itónow that it's nearly as expensive as gasoline, people want low-flow toilets and buildings that collect rainwater," he says. At the same time, escalating energy prices are sparking active, new interest in a variety of products -- from hybrid vehicles and alternative energy sources to energy-efficient appliances and better housing designs. To capitalize on the growing consumer hunger for these products, though, green companies will need to stay nimble and resolve the key challenges that face them.

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

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