A year after census figures showed Pittsburgh was missing out on the explosion of Latino business startups, a Steel City staple has been instrumental in drawing interest from south of the border.
Die-hard Steelers fans from Mexico have been making the trek to Pittsburgh to share in both the fanfare of football and the region's business opportunities.
The group, Steelers Mexico, isn't the first to make the trip, and it won't be the last, says Victor Diaz, CEO of the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Area Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
"It's amazing the fan awareness in Mexico and how many Mexicans are Steelers fans," he said. "They come here for games, but they are also business owners and investors. ... Three different groups are coming in for games, but there are also investment opportunities. There is a lot of interest in the region."
Mr. Diaz said a lot of the interest is in commercial and real estate opportunities. Oftentimes, the investors are Steelers fans and are already familiar with the city and its history.
"There is a big football fan base, and even an independently owned Steelers bar and club in Mexico City to help build the brand there," Mr. Diaz said. "The Steelers have gone to Mexico last year in Monterrey to try and bridge that divide and get that fan interest."
Charly Blanco is one such fan.
Mr. Blanco has followed the Steelers for many years. He is involved with the Steelers bar in Mexico City and has seen it flourish. He was recently in Pittsburgh for the October game against the New England Patriots.
"Coming to the city of Pittsburgh was a dream come true," he said, as Mr. Diaz translated. "The journey is long and expensive, but coming to the city is wonderful. It's a city full of friendship and business opportunities."
The fan group Mr. Blanco and others started in Mexico, called Steeler Nation Mexico, has more than 1,500 members in Mexico City alone.
Every Sunday, about 100 fans turn out at the bar in Mexico City to watch the games.
"It speaks of the love for the Steelers in Mexico," Mr. Blanco said.
Steeler Nation Mexico is the official club for the team and the largest in Latin America.
Burt Lauten, communications officer with the Steelers, said the organization did a youth football camp in Mexico last year and also has a partnership with Grupo Imagen radio, which broadcasts games.
Latino interest in Pittsburgh has not been limited to Mexican football fanatics.
Pittsburgh has only a small Latino population, despite Latinos being the largest minority in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 2.3 percent of the city's population, and even less of Allegheny County and the surrounding region.
Nationally, businesses owned by Hispanics increased 44 percent between 2002 and 2007, second only to businesses owned by African-Americans, which were up 60.5 percent. Businesses owned by Asian-Americans rose 41 percent.
According to census statistics, businesses owned by Hispanics vary, with 36.9 percent falling into the "other" category. Common ventures include repair, maintenance, personal and laundry services, as well as transportation and construction companies.
"Because of the unemployment situation and because of the lack of available capital from lending institutions, there is definitely more of an entrepreneurial movement, and Hispanics are huge into that, whether it is dry cleaning, tailoring or restaurants," Mr. Diaz said.
Mr. Blanco, who travels to the city two or three times a year, sees the opportunity for business in Pittsburgh. They were in town earlier this week when the Steelers faced the Cincinnati Bengals.
"The possibilities to do business in Pittsburgh are important, and, with Mr. Diaz, we are analyzing many options that can open more doors for Mexican products of excellent quality," he said.
"Obviously we also want to strengthen the presence of people traveling from Mexico to see the Steelers, the Pirates, the Penguins and the Pitt Panthers. It interests us very much, and they all have a great demand in Mexico."
Jon Offredo: email@example.com or 412-263-1410. First Published December 8, 2011 5:00 AM