Growing Hispanic population helps rural economies thrive

By Chris Burritt
Bloomberg News / March 27, 2011

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SPARTA, N.C. — Without a growing Hispanic population in the rolling hills of rural North Carolina, Bottomley Evergreens and Farms Inc., a provider of Christmas trees to Wal-Mart and Home Depot, would be out of business.

“If it weren’t for the Hispanic people, I couldn’t farm, couldn’t do nothing,’’ said Blan Bottomley, 64, who has 4.5 million firs planted this year and fields of pumpkins, cabbage, and sweet corn taking root nearby. His son and co-owner Mitchell, 37, said he has gleaned some know-how from the migrant workers.

“I know how to say, ‘Go cut cabbage’ or ‘Go cut pines,’ ’’ he said in Spanish.

The Hispanic population in Alleghany County, at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, grew 89.4 percent from 2000 to 2010, compared with 4.5 percent overall growth in the county, according to 2010 Census figures.

The increase in Latino residents in North Carolina reflects a broader national trend in which Hispanics are moving beyond urban neighborhoods and making rural America home.

Hispanics in North Carolina rose 111.1 percent during the past decade and the ethnic group now accounts for 8.4 percent of the state’s population, compared with 4.7 percent in 2000, according to the census data. Details on state populations will be released through the end of March by the Census Bureau.

“There aren’t many Americans who want to work in agriculture,’’ said Xavier Iglesias, 27, owner of two restaurants and a laundromat in Sparta, the largest town in Alleghany County, in the northwestern part of the state. “It’s such a haven for the migrant worker to come here.’’

Alleghany County lost more than 1,000 textile and apparel manufacturing jobs in the past decade, according to Bob Bamberg, executive director of the county’s chamber of commerce. Economic recovery depends upon agriculture, tourism and entrepreneurs, such as Iglesias, he said.

“He’s an example of Latinos who come up here and start businesses,’’ said Bamberg, 64, who has been in charge of the business organization for five years. Iglesias joined the group’s board of directors last year, an acknowledgement of the growing Hispanic population in the rural area.

“He’s young and outgoing and he speaks perfect English,’’ Bamberg said of Iglesias. “Our best and brightest kids move away and come back when they retire.’’

William Frey, a senior fellow and demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Hispanics make up at least 11 percent of the population in four of the state’s five biggest cities. They account for 13.1 percent of residents in Charlotte, where Bank of America is headquartered.

Frey said the North Carolina is poised to have the 11th-largest Latino population in the United States.

The demographic changes, which helped Barack Obama win the state in the 2008 presidential election, underscore how communities evolve as the Hispanic population fans out. top stories on Twitter

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