News Column

The Hispanic Middle Class Emerges

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In the 1990s, it was this issue of access to capital that would emerge as a major issue in U.S. Hispanic business development. In the Hispanic media market, consolidation created large conglomerates with vast financial resources. During this decade, Univision, Telemundo, Hispanic Broadcasting Corp., and Radio Unica all held initial public offerings. In late 1999, Spanish Broadcasting Systems staged the second-most successful IPO in the history of radio, selling $501 million in stock.

Jorge Mas
Jorge Mas
Aida Alvarez
Aida Alvarez
Carlos Saladrigas
Carlos Saladrigas
In the 1990s, MasTec CEO Jorge Mas won the race against Vincam Group CEO Carlos Saladrigas to become the first $1 billion Hispanic-owned company in a sign of rising success that Small Business Administrator Aida Alvarez said illustrated the Hispanic business community's "vast reservoir of potential."

But it was demographic trends during this decade that underpinned the success of Hispanic media and the broader Hispanic market. "The Hispanic population grew 57.9 percent in the 1990s," according to Hispanic Consumers in Transition. A significant portion of this population growth came from high Hispanic birth rates in the U.S., bolstered by strong, steady immigration. By the end of the decade, a population bubble of young Hispanics had entered the U.S. school system as well as the entry-level job market. In response, Hispanic Business launched SuperOnda, a new magazine specifically tailored to the youth market and its ambitions for economic progress.

Besides national prosperity, two other trends pulled U.S. Hispanics toward the center of the global economy. First came a loosening of trade restrictions with Latin America. In 1994, the U.S., Mexico, and Canada joined in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). By 1999, two-way U.S.-Mexico trade had nearly doubled to $196.6 billion. Meanwhile, democratic governments in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia were testing the merits of capitalism. Privatization and growth opportunities for multinational corporations encouraged a wave of foreign investment into the region. To monitor and chronicle U.S. Hispanics' penetration of foreign markets, Hispanic Business began publishing an annual directory in 1995 of the Top 50 Exporters.

Technology provided the other impetus toward global thinking. The Internet exploded on the scene between 1996 and 1998, capturing the imagination of CEOs and consumers alike. The cross-border reach of the Internet inspired the idea of pan-regional Web sites accessible to all Spanish speakers. Despite worries about a potentially slower Hispanic adoption of technology (the so-called Digital Divide), companies such as,, StarMedia, and attempted to create Hispanic portals to the Web.

Hispanic Business also moved aggressively into cyberspace, but as a specialized publication it carved out a niche among those interested in economic and minority procurement news. This dovetailed with the company's strategy for integration, in which content and research from the printed magazine would be posted to the Web together with additional content only available online.

HispanStar (later renamed became the flagship site. The company's job recruitment service, previously known as HispanData, also moved to the Web; in conjunction with that move, it changed its name to RedWire, an online database of minority-owned companies, completed the Hispanic Business Inc. fleet of Web sites.

Like the boom-and-bust cycles of previous generations, however, the dot-com euphoria peaked in early 2000, and the resulting slowdown spread to telecommunications, media, advertising, and hardware manufacturing. Still, the legacy of the 1990s left enduring and deep-rooted changes in the Hispanic community. Sectors such as finance, travel, and specialty retailing have moved to the Internet. E-mail has become the standard communication medium in Corporate America. For the Hispanic middle class, the sense of economic advancement achieved in the 1990s would position them to exert even greater influence in the U.S. economy and culture in the 21st century. And it would give them the strength and stability to weather the global economic challenges that would lie ahead.

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