Like distant thunder, the boom in the number of Hispanics in the construction trades has been heard only faintly at the typical pro dealer. For the most part, Hispanic workers—particularly immigrants—have been far more likely to be found at jobsites than at the lumberyard.
Now that climate is changing, and LBM dealers can expect the thunder to get louder. The number of Hispanic-owned construction firms, primarily specialty trades serving the residential market, doubled between 1992 and 2002 to more than 212,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Ten states each have more than 4,000 Hispanic-owned construction firms, and Maryland, North Carolina, Michigan, and Tennessee—four states that until recently weren't regarded as hubs for Hispanics—each have more than 1,000 similar firms.
Close to one out of every 12 construction-related companies is now owned by a Hispanic, and in an age in which Hispanics make up 27% of those employed in the industry (up from less than 6% just 20 years ago) the share of firms run by Hispanics is sure to rise. “There's a new generation of Hispanic contractors, one that is very entrepreneurial,” says William Delgado, former executive vice president of the Latin Builders Association in Miami. “It's no longer a ‘survivor' mentality, but about owning your own business.”
How this surge in Hispanic ownership will affect dealers isn't clear yet, but early signs are that it won't require a big change by pro dealers. Hispanic contractors ultimately don't seem to be much different than their counterparts and language issues aren't as daunting as they might seem.
Consider Jose Castillo Jr. of JJA Framing in Charlotte, N.C. A transplant from east Texas 10 years ago, where his father was a framer, Castillo manages several crews that frame thousands of houses for the local divisions of KB Home and Pulte Homes, among other production builders. But except for an occasional stop at a local home improvement center or chain lumberyard for a few extra sticks or fasteners, he relies on his builder clients' superintendents to manage materials orders. “Even on custom homes or short orders, we usually go through the builder [for our framing materials],” says Castillo. “There's very little communication between us and the lumberyard, and you rarely see Hispanics there, either.”
Even when Hispanic contractors are the front men for a construction operation, they typically require nothing different from dealers than what other pro accounts need. “Our biggest challenge is how to run a construction business,” says Hilario Martinez, president of Atlantes Framing in Norcross, Ga. Those needs include issues such as payroll and whether to focus on commercial or residential work. “We just want to take advantage of opportunities in the market.”
Growing Influence According to the Census Bureau, Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the nation's population and are predicted to swell in numbers at a clip more than twice the predicted overall increase in U.S. population through 2010. Nearly 42 million of the 288 million inhabitants counted by the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey regard themselves as Hispanic. That population will, inevitably, influence demand for housing, housing design, and the cultural, economic, and political fabric of an increasing number of markets. “When I first moved here, there was very little in terms of Hispanic population and culture,” says Castillo regarding his adopted home of Charlotte. “Now, there are a lot of businesses and activities that reflect our culture.”