Puerto Ricans in Florida Untapped Business Opportunity for Local Entrepreneurs
The influx of Puerto Rican migrants to Florida could have a silver lining for businessowners and entrepreneurs on the island, according to Frank Nieves, president of the Puerto Rico Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (PRHCC) in Broward County, Fla.
“This is a matter of numbers. If you have [more than] one million Puerto Ricans in Florida, including many entrepreneurs among them, there is a demand for Puerto Rican goods. What happens? There is not one place in Southern Florida where non-Puerto Rican businesses can offer Puerto Ricans the goods they are looking for,” said Nieves, who considers it obvious to establish a venue where those goods can be imported to supply the demand in Florida.
As an example of the demand for Puerto Rican products, Nieves mentioned the local pan de agua (the local version of French bread), which is readily available in Florida, but is labeled pan cubano (Cuban bread). As of late, a new bag was designed for the bread with a new name: Puerto Rico. Now it is selling like pan caliente, or hotcakes.
“This tells you there’s a demand for Puerto Rican goods. So, why don’t we reach back to our culture, our food, the flavors we crave for…. Let’s go and get our sofrito (a mixture of herbs and spice), the crackers we like…. All those things we like, we are going to look for,” Nieves said, emphasizing the business opportunities that Puerto Rican entrepreneurs have with their fellow countrymen & women now living in Florida.
In a clear shift, more Puerto Ricans are moving to Florida than New York, according to an October 2015 report by the Pew Research Center. There are now more than one million Puerto Ricans living in Florida. “[T]he number of Puerto Ricans in Florida has increased 110% since 2000, when their population was 479,000,” Pew reported, noting that the trend is the result of local residents fleeing the island’s fiscal and economic woes. With Florida’s economy growing, more Puerto Ricans—and other Latinos—are also moving to the Sunshine State from other states.
For the aforementioned reasons, the PRHCC is planning to have a Hispanic Business Convention & Expo in September, to give members the opportunity to network statewide and get in contact with businesspeople and entrepreneurs from various Florida counties and Puerto Rico. The initiative is part of the PRH USA Round Table, which comprises businesspeople from Florida’s Polk, Palm Beach, Broward, Duval, Clay and Lucie counties, as well as Puerto Rico, all creating events to help the business and local communities at large.
While the chamber of commerce concept has focus traditionally on developing business-to-business networks, Nieves said there were limits to what they could do by following that model. So, he expanded their approach to reach out beyond the organization’s associates and the local business community.
“The difference between this chamber and the other chambers is the way we fulfill our mission. We integrate business, the community and our culture. The community element is evident because businesses need customers, while culture is what binds us together,” Nieves explained.
Following this approach, the PRHCC also has organized and/or sponsored fiestas patronales (patron saint festivals), the Festival del Pilón and Festival del Plátano, among other cultural activities.
According to Nieves, with the increasing number of Puerto Ricans who are now moving to Florida, the demand for these kinds of activities is also increasing.
However, Puerto Rican migration to Florida is not something new. Historically, Puerto Ricans have been migrating since pre-Columbian times, but in modern days since the 1930s to different parts of the U.S., with many hopeful they would return to the island.
“For whatever reasons, what is happening now is that [Puerto Ricans] are opting to stay in Florida, probably because it is similar to Puerto Rico, it is close to Puerto Rico…even the weather is similar,” said Nieves, who is also convinced that the first migrants “are now pulling their friends and families, and this will continue to grow.”
Research by the PRHCC and the Sun-Sentinel newspaper estimates that more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida in the past 10 years.
“This is an estimate because there is no way we can determine an exact number…. We are American citizens, we don’t go through immigration [at the airport]…,” Nieves said.
–Editor Rosario Fajardo contributed to this story.