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Latinos Want Economic Leadership, Not Isolationism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

If a fierce political campaign can be likened to war, then the war we are watching played out in both the Republican and Democratic presidential primaries proves the ancient saying, “In war, truth is the first casualty.”

The leading candidates for the presidential nominations of their parties – the Republican's Donald Trump and Democrat's Hillary Clinton – have taken great liberty with the truth, or have badly missed the point, on issues important to Latino voters.

With more than 66,000 Latinos turning 18 each month, it’s critically important that presidential candidates recognize that Hispanics, and particularly the Hispanic community’s business leaders, are not single-issue voters. While immigration policy is important, so are access to quality education, affordable healthcare and the creation of an environment that is favorable to entrepreneurs.

Free trade, and good, honest and fair relations with our largest trading partners, such as Mexico, are part of creating the economic environment that Latino voters hope for. Leaders who recognize and deliver on that hope will be rewarded not only with the votes of a growing demographic, but with the economic success we can bring to any president’s legacy.

Think about it: Hispanic business owners are the fastest growing small business segment with over three million companies generating over 500 billion in annual revenue. According to research at Stanford University, the number of new Latino-owned businesses increased 47 percent between 2007 and 2012, while the number of net new businesses created by non-Hispanics declined by two percent. And historically, small business create two-thirds of net new jobs. One out of every five new entrepreneurs are Latinos, and the growth rate of new Latino businesses is twice that of all companies.

Does this sound like a group of people that is sucking the life out of the U.S. economy? To the contrary, we are an economically savvy and powerful group. The next president needs us before, during and after this election cycle.

Hispanic entrepreneurs are keenly aware that trade is essential for economic growth. Nearly 96 percent of the companies that engage in foreign trade in the U.S. are small businesses, many of them Latino owned. Free trade opens doors to new markets, and easing trade restrictions attracts new business investment. While it's true that some businesses lose out to foreign competition, and there are job losses, there are also new business opportunities, and new and better paying jobs are created.

According to Jeffrey J. Schott of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, workers in manufacturing companies that produce exports earn wages 12 to 18 percent higher than workers at companies that only serve the U.S. market. I remember seeing this phenomenon in my own father’s business – a Mexican immigrant who started in business as a restaurateur but eventually ran multiple import/export businesses.

When it comes to trade, jobs and the economy, Latino voters want what every American voter wants: knowledgeable, visionary leadership.

The truth is that the neighborhood is changing, and we need to be good neighbors. This is an idea that applies to our domestic and international policies, and is embraced by the Latino community. While our economy is changing, we need to look back less and look forward more. America is the land of innovation and opportunity, yet the candidates today seem to be stuck in the past, unwilling to grasp the opportunities that are here now and on the horizon.

Walls won’t work (as evidenced by the 40 percent of legal visitors who overstay their visas). Fear and trade wars won’t work, and campaign rhetoric in these critical categories will disenfranchise Hispanic voters.

Latinos will respond to a leader who offers us a clear vision of a future where we can start and grow a business – perhaps an international one. We will respond to a leader who understands that we need options for our children so they don’t get trapped in failing schools, and access to affordable health care for our families and our employees. We want what all Americans want: Leaders who want to solve problems, are serious in their approach and treat us with respect.

Like all Americans, we deserve nothing less.

- Hector Barreto is the Chairman of The Latino Coalition and was Administrator of the Small Business Administration from 2001 to 2006.

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