When California-based sales agent Michael Lee grabbed the microphone to address the National Association of Realtors' recent annual meeting in Orlando, he had a firm message for the attentive audience. 'Every part of this country will be affected by the tidal wave of minority population growth,' he told the convention. After his speech, thousands of real estate agents flocked into the events' seminars searching for tips on working with ethnic buyers, who will account for half of the population by mid-century, given current immigration numbers. Unsurprisingly, the Asian-American population, which has been growing 49 per cent during the past decade to roughly 12 million, is the real estate agents' primary target. According to the latest industry survey, ethnic buyers will soon grow to number more than 60 per cent of the first-time housing market, with Asian-Americans displaying the highest incomes of any other group in the United States. With 53 per cent home-ownership, they also have the highest median home values. But the real estate sector is only the latest in a series of US industries trying to make inroads into the exploding Asian-American consumer market. According to the Chicago-based Spectrem Group, Asian-Americans now account for 5 per cent of affluent US households, up from less than 1 per cent in 2002. All over America, the fight for the purses of the most affluent, best educated and fastest growing minority group has started. 'It's not a stampede but it's moving in the right direction, with the automotive industry and banking being very strong,' said Michael Sherman, general manager at KTSF-TV, the top Asian television station in San Francisco, where 40 per cent of the Asian-Americans are Chinese. According to Mr Sherman, KTSF-TV runs the biggest Chinese news department outside Asia. He noted the advertising market targeting minority groups had been growing more slowly than expected because 'there are still too many stereotypes about Asian people'. He said: 'Too many mainstream businesses and people still believe that Asians are only buying chicken on a string and that they only go to mom-and-pop shops. But our surveys constantly prove them wrong.' However, he added, the perception seemed to be changing. In Boston's Chinatown, Asian supermarkets ignited a battle for the stomachs of New England's Asian-Americans in mid-2003. Within 12 months, two new chains had moved into this part of Boston to grab market share from local heavyweight Super 88, which has dominated the market with five stores and another on the way. Financial service providers in many parts of the US are also jumping on the Asian-American consumer bandwagon. Wells Fargo, the nation's leading lender to minority homebuyers, was hiring more than 250 sales people and was launching a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to reach Asian-Americans and other ethnic home buyers, said Brad Haller, head of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage's Pacific Northwest sales division. In a way, it is a survival strategy - as many homeowners have refinanced their loans and rates are rising again, mortgage business has been suffering. To shore up profits, banks all over the US were staffing call centres, wire departments and voice-response units with multilingual employees who are fluent in Putonghua, Vietnamese, Korean or Japanese, said George Lee, chief executive of MetroBank, a commercial community lender in Houston that targets immigrant markets. 'We are seeing many companies which are new in the Asian-American advertising market and that's where the growth comes from,' said Saul Gitlin, executive vice-president at Kang & Lee Advertising in New York, the leading Asian agency in the US. Mr Gitlin calls the Asian-Americans and other leading ethnic consumer groups the 'last frontier of first-mover advantage' in the business. He revealed that the major car manufacturers were 'now all competing for Asian-American share of garage'. He also noted that pharmaceutical companies had started stand-alone products and research programmes directed at Asian-Americans. Mr Gitlin senses a 'significant perceptual shift in corporate America' concerning the need for multicultural marketing with Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American consumers. 'Together, they represent an annual purchasing power of US$1.5 trillion. That exceeds the individual GDP of such countries as France or Canada,' he said. The rush to break into the Asian-American consumer market is only beginning. Of the US$237 billion spent on advertising in the US in 2002, less than 2 per cent was aimed at ethnic minorities, even though they constitute 30 per cent of the population. 'There is a lot of untapped potential out there,' said Eric Dobyne, an official at the Minority Business Development Agency, a Chicago-based federal body. And the prospects are most promising. Jeffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Centre at the University of Chicago, predicts that Asian buying power in the US will have more than quadrupled over the 18-year period from 1990 to 2008. By the end of this decade, it will have reached US$526 billion - almost half of China's gross domestic product in 2003.