Survey: Utah Believes Immigrants Help Economy

Feb 26, 2019, 6:01 PM | Updated: 7:36 pm

SALT LAKE CITY. Utah — As the national debate over immigration intensifies, Zions Bank decided to conduct a survey of Utah’s perceptions of Hispanic-owned businesses. They discovered more than two-thirds of Utahns agreed that immigrants provide a positive contribution to the state’s economy.

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates 20% of Utah’s businesses are Hispanic-owned, contributing more than $9.4 billion annually to the Utah economy.

Many of those businesses are thriving, like Rico Brand Mexican foods. The owners hope their success can be savored by others.

“Everything that comes out of this company is cooked in this kitchen,” said Jorge Fierro, as he watched several cooks making trays of tamales in a kitchen in a massive warehouse on 700 South in Salt Lake City. “Our products are pretty authentic and very fresh.”

Fierro arrived from Chihuahua, Mexico when he was 24, homeless with a dream to run a business. He started Rico Brand in 1997, selling ready to eat pinto beans at the Farmers Market in Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City.

Fierro was homeless for a period of time and relied on resources from the homeless shelters to get him up on his feet.

He told KSL Hispanics are natural entrepreneurs.

“If we don’t work, we don’t eat,” he said.

There are few social programs in the native countries of Latinos to lift them up, he said.

“We are survivors by nature.”

Today, Rico Brand Mexican foods are made, packaged and distributed to grocery stores in all of our Utah neighborhoods, and nine other states. Fierro’s company employees 60 people, and makes $3 million a year. He likes to say he was born in Mexico, but made in Utah.

“America is a fantastic country,” he said. “I’m always thinking to pay it forward to help others.”

The biggest hurdle for Hispanic entrepreneurs?

“Probably the biggest challenge is the lack of education, the lack of training and the lack of knowing how to start a business.”

The Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is working on improved programs to help with that business education.

“We are creating jobs. We are creating products and services,” said Alex Guzman, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President.

The Hispanic Chamber is helping Hispanic businesses grow beyond the Spanish-speaking community — helping business owners learn English and expand their customer base.

Immigrant businesses, especially Hispanic-owned businesses, add to the economic vitality of our state, said Guzman.

At Red Iguana, the lunch rush welcomes everyone. The popular Utah eatery was founded by Mexican immigrants Ramon and Maria Cardenas in 1985, after a 20-year run at a previous restaurant.


“My parents were pioneers in bringing their type of cooking to the valley, and my family is very, very proud of that,” said Lucy Cardenas, the immigrants’ daughter who owns the Red Iguana today.

More than three decades after it opened, the Red Iguana employs 200 people at two locations, and serves more than 1000 people a day.

“I look forward to continued growth here in the valley, especially from our Latino community,” said Cardenas.

The biggest hurdle she hears from Hispanic friends trying to get a business off the ground?

“Financial support,” she said. “Making sure they have enough money for a particular amount of time.” That’s because the first few years can be very tough for a starting business, she said.

The permitting and licensing involved in opening a business can also be a real challenge for Hispanics hoping to get their dream business off the ground.

“I need to get this license. This has to be approved. That has to be approved,” said Cardenas. “That is definitely something that is a problem for people who want to open up their own business.”

But, she said, Salt Lake City and the Utah Hispanic Chamber are working with potential business owners on successfully navigating the system.

“Education is key,” said Guzman. “Access to capital is key. And, our relations with cities, counties and the state of Utah are a key factor as well.”

Fierro’s advice to young Hispanic entrepreneurs is to get involved, take it vantage of community business education programs, know your product, and know your customers.

“Have mentors that can help you to get started,” said Fierro. “There are a lot of us that would love to help.”

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Survey: Utah Believes Immigrants Help Economy