01/02/2013 07:02 pm ET Updated Mar 04, 2013

Hispanic Business: Minorities Bloom in Wilting Economy

When we talk about Hispanics and the economy, we generally focus on immigration -- and in particular, its potential to bring down wages. Likewise, in the political sphere, we concentrate on the Hispanic community's impact on elections, its growing influence as a voting bloc, and its increasing voice in the national debate. What we very rarely hear about is how Hispanics have been busy becoming successful businessmen and entrepreneurs, and how these companies are generating employment nationwide, from Florida to California, and from Texas to New York.

In the 1980s, the Hispanic population of the U.S. was barely a third of its current level. As a consequence, there were only 400 Hispanic-owned businesses, with a total combined revenue of only $1 million. But today, Hispanics are living a completely different experience in terms of both population size and business acumen than we were only two decades ago. We have transitioned from being a mostly irrelevant minority to being a political and economic force that cannot be ignored.

Today, not only have the numbers of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. increased, but so have the millions in legitimate business revenue. In 2011, Hispanic Business calculated that Hispanic companies in the U.S. combined for a total revenue of $37.8 billion -- an 18.6 percent increase from 2010. In addition, Hispanic owned businesses account for over 128,000 employees. In an economy that was shedding jobs at an alarming rate after the 2008 financial crisis, and in which the unemployment rate continues to be painfully high, Hispanic business have increased their payrolls by 12.1 percent since 2006.

Through the early 2000s, the state of California led in most measures of Hispanic activity. However, by 2005 the Sunshine State had overtaken it. Hispanic Business reported that Florida-based Hispanic-owned companies brought in more than $15 billion in revenue in 2011 after making $11 billion the year before. In total, the companies included in Hispanic Business' Top 20 list employed over 24,000 people last year. This list was led by Brightstar Corp., a privately held company founded in 1997 to provide services to the telecommunications industry, whose 2011 revenue was some $5.7 billion.

Although Florida now leads the pack in terms of Hispanic entrepreneurship, California continues to stand out as a base for Hispanic business. The top 20 California companies in the 2009 Hispanic Business 500 Ranking produced combined revenues of $5 billion in 2008. One of these top companies, based in Long Beach, California, is Molina Healthcare. Molina defied the terrible economic context of 2007-08 by increasing revenue by 24 percent, from $2.5 billion to $3.1 billion. California's biggest employment magnet sectors were energy and retail, with increases of 62.1 and 45.4 percent, respectively.

Indeed, when it comes to Hispanic-owned business, most sectors saw increased hiring even while the rest the country was seeing contracting employment across almost all sectors. The Hispanic-owned service sector, for instance, grew 41 percent in 2011 alone, while wholesale followed with 19 percent growth and transportation with a nine percent increase. Exemplifying this new era, the Hispanic-owned Mike Shaw automotive dealership won the Time Dealer of the Year, making it the first ever minority group dealership to win the prestigious recognition.

In our current political moment, our national debate -- when it isn't obsessed with wrangling over tax cuts and spending priorities -- too often sees Hispanics as a "problem" to be solved. This has never been further from the truth, and it's a breath of fresh air to see the Hispanic minority generating employment and making an outsized contribution to the prosperity of our nation. Despite the prevailing mood of pessimism that has seemed to permeate the US, the immigrant's dream of social mobility based on opportunity and hard work -- on which this country was founded -- is still far from dead.