BREAKING About two years ago, Mexico native Carlos Perez left his job at a factory in Dayton, Tenn., to start Perez Produce, a distributing company for local Hispanic restaurants and stores.
Now, Mr. Perez said he regrets leaving a stable job at the La-Z-Boy factory because the produce business is not going well and he is on the verge of closing.
“When I first started with the business two years ago it was going well, but starting about three months ago it started going down, down,” he said in Spanish. “If the situation continues to get worse, I think I might have to close it in a couple of months.”
With thousands of jobs lost in the area, small businesses, especially immigrant-owned mom-and-pops are struggling to survive, local experts and business owners say.
“When the economy slows down and people have either lost their job or are concerned about losing their job ... people start cutting back on spending and one particular place to do that is in the service area, things like going out for dinner,” said Dr. Bruce Hutchinson, professor of economics at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
When business was going well, Mr. Perez would sell about 2,000 boxes of produce per week in the region. He said he now sells between 300 and 400 boxes per week.
The economic slowdown has taken a far greater toll on non-citizen immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries, than it has on the U.S. population as a whole, according to a Pew Hispanic Center analysis of Census Bureau data.
The median annual income of non-citizen immigrant households fell 7.3 percent from 2006 to 2007 while the median annual income of all U.S. households increased 1.3 percent during the same period, the report states.
According to the Pew center, the economic fate of Hispanic immigrant workers has been tied mostly to the housing and construction sectors.
“Thus, these workers enjoyed significant economic gains during the construction boom of the early part of this decade, only to experience a sharp decline starting in 2006,” the center reported.
Over the past year, the biggest job losses in Tennessee were in manufacturing, which is down by 10,000 jobs, and professional and business services, which lost about 6,800 jobs, according to Tennessee Department of Labor.
So far, six area companies — La-Z-Boy, Shaw Industries, Tecumseh Power Co., Arcade Marketing, Dixie Group and Mohawk Industries — have announced plans to cut more than 2,000 jobs by next year. In September, unemployment rates in Tennessee and Georgia were at their highest level in 21 years and 16 years, respectively.
Juan Ramirez, owner of the grocery store Las Morelianas in Hixson, Tenn., which receives his produce from Mr. Perez’s business, said a combination of a slower economy and tighter immigration laws has affected business that caters mainly to Hispanics.
“If about 50 percent of Hispanics stop working and many of them go back to their native county, that’s going to have a great effect on Hispanic businesses because a large percentage of our clients are Hispanics,” he said. “If this (trend) continues in six months, it’s going to be extremely hard for the Hispanic commerce to continue.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Perez continues to make his deliveries.
“I’m trying to find another job or to see what other business I can start because I can’t keep going like this,” he said.
Staff Writer Dave Flessner contributed to this article.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...