By Helena Rodriguez
It was with her husband’s brains and her personality that Margie Villalobos says she opened her small Mexican import business, La Frontera, on the square in Portales in 1991.
But when her husband Mario died in a trucking accident in 2001, Villalobos said she quickly became “the brains” behind the family business, now a sports wear and fashion shop at 518 E. Second St.
Villalobos is among 9,000 Hispanic women in New Mexico who own their own business, making New Mexico the top-ranked state in the country for Hispanic, women-owned businesses. This is according to reports from the Center for Women’s Business Research and a September 2004 report from the National Women’s Business Council, which used data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
New Mexico even outranks larger Southwestern states, Texas (ranked No. 2) and California (No. 3), in this area, although these states have much higher Hispanic populations.
According to Mark Boyd, an economist with the New Mexico Department of Labor in Albuquerque, it is because states such as Texas, California and Arizona, tend to have higher numbers of immigrants who make up much of their Hispanic populations, whereas in New Mexico, many Hispanics were born in the United States or have lived here since they were babies.
“Many Hispanics in New Mexico have been here for generations. We have a lot of influential Hispanic families in the state who have money,” Boyd said. “It takes a certain level of money to start a business and, particularly with land owners, it gives them the ability to cash some of that in.”
Boyd also noted that part of this increase may be attributed to an increase in work opportunities for women overall in the country, as well as for minorities.
Villalobos said her late husband, who gave her the idea to open the business, was born in Mexico. Her husband ran a real estate and trucking business at the time she opened her store. As for her, she said her family, including her parents and grandparents, were all born in the United States.
According to a recent report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Hispanic women are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. job force.
Over the past decade, Hispanic women workers have grown in number by more than 100 percent and now account for nearly four in 10 minority-women owned firms and represent eight percent of all private, women-owned businesses. Hispanic women business owners also account for 30 percent, nearly one-third, of all Hispanic business owners.
Most Hispanic women business owners are in service-related industries. According to the Center for Women’s Business Research, Hispanic women are mostly opening businesses in the areas of transportation, communications and public utilities. This is followed by businesses in services, construction, retail trade, manufacturing and finance/insurance/real estate (FIRE).
Villalobos did not have any post-secondary education when she opened her businesses, but is currently taking classes at Clovis Community College and hopes to eventually transfer to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales and earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology.
“By the time I get my degree, I will have already had experience running a business,” Villalobos said. She noted that she would like to become a social worker, but also wants to continue her retail business, maybe moving it to a bigger city mall setting.
Villalobos said she also helped her niece acquire her own business in Los Lunas. While she said there are grants now available through the Small Business Administration and government agencies like that, she said opening a business can still be a big challenge for Hispanic women, or anyone for that matter.
According to the EEOC, less than three percent of Hispanic women earn more than $75,000 a year while 56 percent earn less than 25 percent. The median income for Hispanic women is under $22,000, and Hispanic women have consistently been ranked amongst the poorest of the poor in the country, with many being the sole or main providers of their households.
Despite these grim statistics, Boyd said the opportunities for women, minorities, and in particular, Hispanic women, will continue to grow.