Hispanic-owned businesses increasing in Houston

HOUSTON For close to three decades, RdlR Architects has put its stamp on Houston.

"RdlR Architects is a design-oriented firm," said Lorie Westrick, who works for the company.

It drew the plans for the expanded Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion and designed the iconic set of bridges that crosses the Southwest Freeway.

To look at its award-winning employees you can tell its staff is diverse. But what you might not know is that the company is Hispanic-owned and run.

"We've always had to prove ourselves and prove that we can produce the goods," Westrick said.

Westrick is a principle at RdlR and she says when the company first opened, it was one of very few owned by a Hispanic.

But that has changed a lot.

"Today, there's a number of very talented Hispanic architects in the city, and I think that you can see its influence not only in the design of the city but in just the general business world," Westrick said.

"It's no longer an issue; it's no longer an abnormality to see a person of Hispanic heritage to be in the business world and to be participating at a very high level," she added.

And the numbers don't lie. According to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, in Harris County alone there are now more than 75,000 Hispanic-owned businesses.

"Smart people understand that Hispanics play a big part in this economy in Houston," said Laura Murillo, president and CEO of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Murillo says she's seen the growth first hand.

In the last three years, membership in the chamber has exploded from 500 members to more than 3,000.

"Everyone understands the color of money, which is green," Murillo. "And they appreciate the value that we bring in terms of a specific market."

And she says businesses across the spectrum are seeing the value of Hispanic businesses and consumers.

"We are an international city whether we want to be or not; that's the reality," she said.

It's a reality that lifelong Houstonian Harold Hidalgo has seen himself.

"We were the only family named Hidalgo in the city of Houston when I was a kid," he said. "Now, they're all over the place."

Hidalgo runs the accounting firm of Hidalgo, Banfill, Zlotnik, and Kermali, which has been in business since 1949. He too sees the growing influence of Hispanic business but says there is more to come.

"I think that there is still a lot of room for the Hispanic community to move up," Hidalgo said.

Hispanics will be the new majority in the United States within the next decade, which means they'll continue to have a growing influence politically, culturally, and of course, in the business world, creating another element to their heritage.

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