Elda Stanco-Downey’s family comes from a long line of immigrants: her great-grandparents immigrated to the United States; her grandfather immigrated to Italy; and her father immigrated to Venezuela, where she grew up speaking three languages. She completed the circle, moving to the United States to earn bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
“I understand I’m in a very privileged spot,” says Stanco-Downey, who wondered, several years into an academic career, how else she might best serve the Roanoke community.
In 2013 she founded Roanoke Spanish, a consultancy that helps businesses capitalize on the area’s growing Central and South American immigrant community. Her company provides translations, cultural interpretation, and export-market expertise.
“I had someone a few years ago, a CEO in construction, tell me, ‘I’m not interested in your services right now, but I know I’ll need you in about five to seven years,’ “ she says. “He knew that his workforce would be looking toward retirement and he would need workers.”
“The demographics are changing the way they are changing in the rest of the country,” and companies are recognizing the benefits that immigrants bring, both as workers and as customers.
Several insurance brokers, for example, call on Roanoke Spanish to send an interpreter for their clients. “The more cases we’ve worked on like that, word gets out,” Stanco-Downey says: “My insurance agent doesn’t speak Spanish, but he brings someone who translates. And that brings in customers.”
Equally important, she says, is cultural intelligence: teaching American managers how to best welcome their foreign-born workforce, boosting productivity and lowering turnover. “Once you fulfill that, you have all these other benefits that come along with it,” she says. Take manufacturing operations, for example. To keep them in Roanoke, “let’s make sure they have the workforce they need,” she says. “It is a two-way street.”
Stanco-Downey, who serves on several area business and community organization boards, expects Roanoke will continue to embrace the challenge of a shifting demographic, to its benefit. “The immigrant drive is really fascinating,” she says. “It’s a force to be reckoned with.”