Not all Hispanics working in construction are undocumented immigrants working at trade labor levels, said Rick Schwolsky, editor-in-chief of El Nuevo Constructor, a Spanish-language magazine distributed to 35,000 Hispanic and Latin contractors. Schwolsky and Alejandra Quevedo, managing editor of El Nuevo Constructor, discussed Hispanic contractors, their impact on the construction industry and how best to influence them at the Home Improvement Research Institute's annual spring conference in Washington, D.C. in April.

Hispanic-owned construction firms generated annual sales of $21.9 billion in 2000, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. In 2003, 100 of the top 500 Hispanic businesses were construction companies, according to Hispanic Business Magazine, Schwolsky said. The magazine also reported that of the 100 fastest growing Hispanic businesses, 20 were construction companies.

The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 2.2 million Hispanics worked in construction in 2003. The 2000 U.S. Census found that Hispanics represent about 12% of the population yet comprise 15% of the construction industry.

“In many markets, Hispanic contractors dominate the major trades - and the trend among Hispanic contractors is fast, entrepreneurial growth and ambitious expansion of business activities,” Schwolsky said. From 1992 to 1997, the number of Hispanic-owned construction companies grew 36%, totalling 152,573 firms. As of 1997, these companies had an average of seven employees, paid on average $21,480.

Hispanic contractors are ambitious, entrepreneurial and quality oriented, Schwolsky said. Two things connect Hispanic contractors: concern for safety and desire for growth, he noted. Hispanic construction workers are injured or die on job sites at a disproportionate rate, often because of the language barrier. Also, Hispanics workers may be less familiar with U.S. safety standards, which are stricter than in Mexico.

To address these two concerns, manufacturers targeting Hispanic contractors should provide training in proper installation techniques and warranty issues, which will ultimately help them improve their business, said Schwolsky.

In marketing to Hispanics, take into account how long they have lived in the United States, Quevedo said. Have they undergone assimilation, in which they abandon their first culture, or are they acculturated, adopting a second culture but retaining strong ties to their native country?

Second generation Hispanic business owners are more accustomed to listening to messages in English, but Hispanic business owners in Miami still use Spanish as their main language, Quevedo said.

She offered tips on how to reach Hispanic contractors:

-- Hire bilingual field and customer service people.

-- Translate key information in literature and on Web sites.

-- Be innovative.

-- Establish relationships with Hispanic community leaders and business leaders.

-- Submit press releases to Spanish-language newspapers and try to get listed on their calendars.

-- Partner with banks that want to tap into the Latino entrepreneurial community.

-- Sponsor annual banquets, golf events, board retreats, soccer tournaments and special training programs.

Don't expect results overnight, Schwolsky said. Build trust by showing that you want to make a difference in their lives.

Because Hispanics as a group tend to place a high value on brands, create a marketing program that rewards them for choosing your brand, Schwolsky said. The rewards could be calling cards, access to credit services, useful information for everyday life or safety training.

Offering support services such as English as a second language classes or GED classes can help inspire loyalty among Hispanic crew members, Schwolsky said.

Advertising in Spanish is 4.5 times more effective than in English, according to RRG Research Group, he said. RRG also found that without brand knowledge, Hispanic buyers relied on just price.

The following Hispanic construction industry associations offer resources, contacts and opportunities for networking, Schwolsky said: U.S. Hispanic Contractors Association (; Hispanic Construction Industry Association (; Latino Builders Association in San Diego; Latin Builders Association (; Hispanic Contractors of Colorado (; Hispanic Contractors of America in Kansas City, Mo.; and Hispanic Contractors of Georgia in Norcross, Ga.