Hispanics’ economic impact studied

By Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Counting and mapping North Carolina’s Hispanic population, and measuring its economic impact and potential, is the focus of a new study the Kenan Institute for Private Enterprise at UNC-CH has undertaken with funding from the North Carolina Bankers Association.

The study, to be completed by the end of the year, aims to provide data that banks, businesses, policymakers and decision-makers can use to serve and meet the needs of Hispanics, says Paul Stock, the association’s executive vice president and counsel.

In addition to helping Bankers Association members “figure out how to serve this growing market segment,” he says, “it is really important for all the decision-makers in North Carolina in the public arena to have accurate data with which to make current decisions and base future planning.”

Some banks already have opened branches targeting the Hispanic market, Stock says, including a Charlotte branch of Newton-based Peoples Bank, and a hometown branch in a bodega of Gastonia-based Citizens South Bank.

A big challenge for the study will be to identify and mine databases that government, businesses and other organizations may have that help show the Hispanic population’s size, composition, location, buying power and impact on the economy, taxes and government services, says Jack Kasarda, director of the Kenan Institute and co-principal investigator for the study.

Jim Johnson, a professor at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-CH and the study’s other co-principal investigator, says the state incurs a “tremendous economic loss by not being more inclusive.”

Compounding that problem, he says, is a lack of detailed aggregate data about the size and impact of the Hispanic population, including both documented and undocumented immigrant residents.

The willingness of the U.S. and Mexican governments and of private groups such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina and the Latino Credit Union to share aggregate data will be critical to the study, he says.

Blue Cross has roughly 30,000 members who have identified Spanish as their preferred language, says Lucy Vidal-Barreto, a program manager for the nonprofit insurer, while the Latino Credit Union has more than 35,000 members and assets of $22 million, says John Herrera, its chairman.

And the governments of Mexico and the United States track “remittances,” or funds that immigrants to the United States send to their families back home, a flow of support that studies show is more frequent from North Carolina than from any other state, Herrera says.

The Bankers Association plans to release the study on January 2 at the Economic Forecast Forum it sponsors with North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry.

The study is being funded with a $140,000 grant from the Bankers Association to the Kenan-Flagler Business School Foundation that the Kenan Institute is matching with contributed services.

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