Business

The Growing Influence of Latino Executives in
Dallas-Fort Worth

They're showing up in more C-suites and building their presence on boards.

With its booming economy and business-friendly environment, companies—and workers—continue to flock to Texas. Nearly half of all new arrivals to the state are foreign-born, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The Fed took a look at the economic impact of immigration in its “Gone to Texas” research report, calling it both a cause and consequence of rapid regional growth.

Fifty-eight percent of the state’s immigrants hail from Mexico, followed by Asia and Central and South America. Beyond boosting local employment ranks, Latino immigrants are a growing entrepreneurial force. There are more than 70,000 Latino-owned businesses in North Texas, and they generate an estimated $10.7 billion in annual revenue, according to New York-based Stout Risius Ross Inc.

Among the most successful local entrepreneurs is Nina Vaca. The Ecuador native founded Pinnacle Group 20 years ago with just $300. Last year, the company hit $1 billion in sales and was named the fastest-growing woman-owned business in America. Vaca, a former chair of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who was inducted into the Minority Business Hall of Fame earlier this year, also serves on the boards of Comerica Inc., Kohls Corp., and Cinemark. “Latino business is an integral and growing part of the economic landscape of North Texas and the nation,” she says, “and we do not expect this trend to reverse anytime soon.”

Like Vaca, Latino executives are showing up in more C-suites and amplifying their influence by serving on corporate and civic boards. Cuba-born Manny Fernandez, for example, leads the Dallas office of KPMG as managing partner. He also serves on the board of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and is an incoming board member of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The connections between North Texas and Mexico and other Latin countries work both ways. Just ask Evelyn Torres, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants whose Solaris Technologies Inc. has flourished by bringing mobile technology towers to remote outposts in Mexico and Guatelmala.

Along with technology, another area of promise is energy. Last year, cash-strapped Mexico began opening up its oil fields to foreign producers for the first time in nearly eight decades. As energy prices rebound, there will be “tremendous opportunities” for North Texas oil and gas service companies to do more business in Mexico, says economist Bud Weinstein, associate director of the Maguire Energy Institute at Southern Methodist University. The opportunities come with significant risk, as the coastal basins along the Gulf of Mexico are hotbeds for crime. Cartels have diversified beyond drugs into oil theft, extortion, and kidnappings.

Still, global risk consultancy Control Risk thinks the “widespread excitement” for foreign participation in Mexico’s energy sector is justified. And DFW energy companies are no strangers to volatile markets. “Companies that have gone international are used to it,” Weinstein says. “Mexico is not like Yemen or Iraq, Libya, Egypt, and some other places. Security is always a concern, but the industry knows how to handle it.”

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