I am paraphrasing this headline to make it fit on the page. The sign that is posted in a cheese steak shop in Philadelphia (gee, go figure) actually reads “This is America: When ordering please speak English.” And it has been allowed to stay, according to Philadelphia agency Commission on Human Relations. They ruled that Joe Vento of Geno’s Steaks does not violate the city’s Fair Practice Ordinance by displaying the sign.

Can you imagine if HVACR contractors had that same sign in their lobby or used that message on their voicemail? I would imagine there would be some resistance to it and a fallout from lost business. It isn’t a good idea to turn off a growing segment of the market.

In the recent past, the demographics have changed dramatically in the United States. There is no longer any a majority race in our country. Oh sure, the white native American population still holds a numbers edge over ethnic groups such as Hispanics and Asians, but the numbers are beginning to make significant moves toward an evening out of the races. And while English is still the dominant language in our country, it no longer has the lofty status it held prior to the Baby Boomer generation.

This demographic shift will - if it hasn’t already - have a lasting effect on how small businesses go to work each day. We’ve read about the rising number of Hispanic workers in our southern states and discovered that there are untapped labor pools that remain closed because of language barriers. Either ethnic workers are not making the effort to adapt to bilingual education or business owners are not reaching out enough to encourage bilingual training for their employees. I suspect both are legitimate reasons.

It is never too late for HVACR contractors to play a leading role in adapting to bilingual changes. I would even suggest that making changes couldn’t only lead to a larger labor pool, but to a larger customer base as well. If your sales reps or service techs can communicate with the growing ethnic population in your neighborhood, you can continue to grow your business or at least stave off the slow times brought on by today’s economic climate.

I know a lot of our readers are hunkering down and focusing their marketing efforts on their existing customer bases. That is a very wise and fiscally responsible idea. But for those who prefer to continue their search for new markets - markets that include workers and customers - I’d recommend exploring bilingual training.

Take a look at what is available in your community or go online to explore other options. I bet you will find that it isn’t necessary to just speak English in order to keep your business going.