Business and Labor
The promise of jobs has been one of the strongest factors drawing Latino migrants to Rhode Island. Initially many of the jobs were in farming or factory work. Today many Latinos work in manufacturing or the service sector for relatively low pay. Attempts to incorporate unskilled Latino workers into unions began in the 1970s, when advocates such as Rev. Raymond Tetrault, a Catholic priest who worked as the director of Latino ministries in the Diocese of Providence, attempted to help these workers. Organizing these employees into groups proved to be a difficult task, however, mainly because of language and cultural barriers.
Nevertheless, by the dawn of the twenty-first century, the entrepreneurial spirit of Latinos had become increasingly evident. Small-business development has grown substantially during the last decade. In 2002 there were an estimated 3,415 Latino-owned businesses in Rhode Island a nearly tenfold increase since 1994 that had generated $213 million in revenue. The level of growth from 1997 to 2002 was nearly five times the national rate. Although about two-thirds of Latino-owned businesses are in Providence, there is also a significant presence in Central Falls, whose population is nearly 48 percent Latino. In 2000, 12 Latino-owned businesses collaborated to establish the Rhode Island Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce. Three years later, the first Latino Business Expo was held. In addition, organizations such as the Rhode Island Small Business Development Center have held a variety of workshops to help Latinos maximize their businesses. Non-Latino business owners also have come to realize the importance of appealing to Latino customers. The purchasing power of Rhode Island Latinos was an estimated $1.4 billion in 2002 and was projected to be $2.3 billion in 2008.