Immigrants chasing their business dreams

June 14, 2012. 11% of metro area small-business owners are  immigrants. An article by Allie Shah, Star Tribune (Twin Cities, MN).

It’s a few minutes before noon on Wednesday at the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, and customers already are lined up outside Pham’s Deli.

Owner Trung Pham has been serving pho, bubble tea and other delicacies from his native Vietnam to a diverse clientele for six years. He made the switch to owning his own business after 20 years of working in the insurance industry. “My wife and I always wanted to open a business,” he said.

He’s not the only immigrant with such a dream. More than one in six small-business owners in the United States is an immigrant, according to a report released Thursday by the New York-based Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research Initiative. The study offers a snapshot of the growing number of immigrant-owned businesses nationwide and in select metro areas, including the Twin Cities.

Overall, there are 900,000 immigrant business owners nationwide, accounting for 18 percent of the 4.9 million small-business owners. In the Twin Cities, immigrants make up 11 percent of all small-business owners.

As more immigrants have moved to the Twin Cities in the past 20 years, many have started businesses. In 1990, there were 1,500 immigrant business owners operating locally; today there are 6,700.

“Immigrants are somewhat more likely than U.S.-born people to be business owners, but they’re not super-entrepreneurs,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, senior fellow at the Fiscal Policy Institute and chief author of the study.

The report relied on two main sources of data: the 2007 Survey of Business Owners and the 2010 American Community Survey.

Among its other findings:

• In general, immigrants from the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe have the highest rates of business ownership nationally.

• Immigrant women are more likely than U.S.-born women to own a business.

• The majority of immigrant business owners nationwide lack college degrees.

Mike Temali, president and CEO of the Neighborhood Development Center, said he isn’t surprised to hear that so many immigrants own businesses.

“If you look at streets like Lake Street and University Avenue, if you look at Central Avenue in northeast Minneapolis, Payne Avenue on the East Side and Cesar Chavez on the West Side [of St. Paul], those streets have been literally revitalized to a significant extent in the last 20 years by recent immigrant entrepreneurs,” he said.

The characteristics of immigrants, in general, make them highly suitable to taking on the challenges of owning a business, Temali suggested.

“Who immigrants tend to be and what they carry with them, both as assets and as barriers, it’s not surprising,” he said. “Because on the asset side, they’ve already proven their entrepreneurialism by immigrating, either because they have to as refugees or because they want to for schooling or economic opportunity. They, by definition, have gone through incredible hurdles and processes and delays to land here. … But then the barriers they face when they land here include obvious stuff, like languages. That really prevents them from getting onto a career ladder.”

The Neighborhood Development Center, a St. Paul nonprofit group, has helped train roughly 4,000 low-income people to start businesses. About 20 percent of those trained have actually done so, and 40 percent of those it has trained have been immigrants.

‘We try everything’

Ngawang Dakpa sells dresses, jewelry, scarves at his store, Tibet Arts & Gifts at the Midtown Global Market. He was among the early waves of Tibetan immigrants who resettled in Minnesota in the early 1990s.

A former auditor for the Tibetan government in exile in India, he moved to Minnesota and started selling Tibetan items at the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Soon, he opened kiosks at local shopping malls before moving to Midtown about six years ago.

For Gigi Asres, the chance to be her own boss motivated her to open a salon. The Ethiopian native opened Gigi’s Braid Factory, also in the Midtown Global Market, two years ago.

She wasn’t surprised to learn about the Fiscal Policy Institute’s findings that immigrant women are more likely to own a business than their U.S.-born peers.

“We come to America and we see everything’s open to us,” she said. “So we try everything.”

Region: A third of Inland small-business owners are immigrants

June 14, 2012. About one-third of Inland small businesses are started by people not born in the U.S, notes an analysis of census data. An article by David Olson, Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise.

In an Indiana Avenue strip mall just off Highway 91 in Riverside, there’s an Egyptian-run dry cleaner, a Thai-owned postal-services shop, a Mexican-operated Christian bookstore, a Chinese foot-massage business, a Cambodian-owned deli and an Egyptian-run pizza cafe. Only one business in the center has a U.S.-born owner.

Such concentrations of immigrant-owned businesses are increasingly common in the Inland area.

Nearly a third of small-business owners in the region are immigrants, more than double the percentage of two decades ago, a new study finds.

The study by the Latham, N.Y.-based Fiscal Policy Institute is based upon an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau surveys. The institute is a research and education organization that focuses on economic and social issues.

David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the institute’s Immigration Research Initiative and principal author of the report, said the statistics show that, even though immigrants often are blamed for taking jobs from U.S.-born workers, they in reality create millions of jobs.

“That’s part of the story people often miss out on,” he said.

Immigrant business owners with paid workers other than themselves employ on average 11 people, the study shows.

The report also found that immigrants of working age are 10 percent more likely to own an incorporated business than U.S.-born residents.

“These are people who left their homes to try to make a new start,” Dyssegaard Kallick said.

Nationwide, 18 percent of small-business owners are immigrants. The Inland region has the eighth highest percentage of small-business owners – 31 percent – of the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas.

The area lures immigrant entrepreneurs for the same reason it attracts new residents: cheaper land and rents and a lower cost of living than in coastal counties, said David Stewart, a professor of marketing at UC Riverside.

Cities and counties in the region also tend to have fewer regulations and paperwork than places to the west, Stewart said.


Indiana Avenue, which parallels Highway 91 south of downtown, is typical of many parts of the Inland Empire.

In a section of the street that runs through the Victoria and Casa Blanca neighborhoods, strip malls with fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, dry cleaners and other retail outlets alternate with dental offices and gas stations.

Wadie Andrawis has been in a shopping center there since 1984, sharing it with the Chinese foot-massage shop and the other immigrant-run businesses. Using savings he brought with him from Egypt, he first opened a doughnut shop, later adding pizza to the menu because the doughnuts weren’t selling well. He eventually dropped the doughnuts.

Now Andrawis and his wife, Teresa – the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants – have two locations of N & W Antonious Pizza & Cafe, the other in downtown Riverside. They have 15 employees, most of them U.S.-born.

When Wadie Andrawis, 57, arrived in the United States in 1980, he settled in San Bernardino because an Egyptian friend was a manager of a doughnut shop there and offered him a job as a cashier.

He is an accomplished writer and playwright who has written 36 books. He said he fled Egypt after Muslim extremists threatened him for writing a play that they believed contained blasphemous passages.

But Andrawis’ writing skills didn’t help him get a U.S. job. There’s not much demand in the U.S. for people who write in Arabic, he said.


It’s common for immigrants with professional jobs in their homelands to not find similar work in the United States, said Todd Sorensen, an assistant professor of economics at UC Riverside.

“The skills people bring from their home countries might not transfer to U.S. firms, but they might transfer to running a business,” Sorensen said.

The study found that immigrants from Middle Eastern and European countries were most likely to own businesses. Mexicans, who make up most of the Inland area’s immigrants, were least likely of all nationalities.

Sorensen said immigrants from faraway countries tend to arrive with more money to open a business, because it costs more to emigrate. Mexicans typically cross the land border. In addition, Mexican immigrants are more likely to be undocumented than migrants from other countries, and that adds barriers to opening a formal business, he said.

Down Indiana Avenue from Andrawis’ restaurant, Pakistani-born Tariq Rao runs Adam’s Smoke Shop and Market. Rao, 30, worked for his father’s car dealership in Pakistan, but his father – who provided the financing for the store – didn’t have the million dollars that is typically necessary to open a U.S. car dealership, so the two opened a smoke shop instead, Rao said.

Like many immigrants, Rao settled in the Inland region because he had family – his sister – already in the area.

Van and Miriam Ngo co-own businesses in the same shopping center as Rao. Miriam Ngo, a Mexican immigrant, runs Nails Plus salon. Van Ngo, 42, a native of Vietnam, operates Teriyaki Plus.

The two met when they were employees at a previous location of Teriyaki Plus. They saved up money and took out loans to buy the restaurant and nail salon.

“I started out as a cook, but I always had an interest in owning a business,” Van Ngo said. “It’s the American dream to own a business.”

Colorado’s immigrant businesses generate $684 million yearly, study says

June 14, 2012. An article by Kevin C. Keller, Denver Post.

Immigrant-owned small businesses bring in an average of $684 million a year to Colorado, according to a newly released study by the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York.

The $684 million figure, determined using revenues from 2006 through 2010, represents 7 percent of earnings for all small businesses in Colorado. A small business was defined as a privately held firm with fewer than 100 employees.

The report found there are just more than 13,000 immigrant-owned firms in the state. That accounts for 11 percent of all small businesses in Colorado.

The Fiscal Policy Institute used data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Kathy White, deputy project director at the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, said she was surprised at the number of immigrant-owned businesses in Colorado.

“Immigration in our state is growing,” White said. “They share our entrepreneurial spirit. While continuing to grow their businesses, they have employed people, and it’s becoming an integral part of the local economy.”

Foreign-born immigrants make up 11.7 percent of the Colorado workforce, according to the study.

Nationally, immigrants are 16 percent of the workforce, and 18 percent of small businesses are immigrant-owned.

The shares of immigrants in the workforce and of immigrant-owned small businesses have about doubled in Colorado in 20 years.

Nationally, both rates have increased, but not as rapidly.

Sisay Teklu, executive director of Community Enterprise Development Services, said Colorado has a great environment for immigrant businesses.

“The business environment is very friendly to small-business startups,” said Teklu, an African immigrant. “Many of the immigrants I see in Denver are coming from Boston; Washington, D.C.; and California, not directly from their country. When you compare rent, Denver is very reasonable, and if you want to take care of your family and establish solid harmony, they prefer Colorado.”

Community Enterprise Development Services is based in Denver and provides financing for low-income to moderate-income immigrants and refugees.

Colorado is one of only 19 states where a U.S.-born member of the labor force is more likely to own a small business than someone from the foreign-born labor force.

Immigrant women more likely to own businesses in U.S. than women born in the country, new study reveals

June 14, 2012. An article by Lydia Warren, (Daily Mail, UK)

Study: Immigrants own 18% of U.S. small businesses

June 14, 2012. An article by Alan Gomez, USA  Today.

Immigrant Small Business Owners: A Significant and Growing Part of the Economy

June 14, 2012. More than one in six small business owners in the United States is an immigrant, according to a new report from FPI’s Immigration Research Initiative. Immigrants – people born in another country – make up 18 percent of all small business owners in the United States. By contrast, immigrants are 13 percent of the population and 16 percent of the labor force, according to the American Community Survey from 2010. That’s a big change from 20 years ago, when immigrants made up 9 percent of the labor force and 12 percent of small business owners. The report includes national data, information about the 50 states plus the District of Columbia, and information about the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the country.

Report: Transit Fares High and Rising? Blame Bailed-Out Banks

June 9, 2012. Interest rate swap agreements are costing 12 transit agencies around the country over $500 million a year. That’s the gist of a new report released June 7 by The Amalgamated Transit Union and a group called ReFund Transit.

WNYC’s Jim O’Grady reported on the release that day. On June 9, a column by Gretchen Morgenson appeared in the New York Times, “How Banks Could Return the Favor,” excerpted below.

James A. Parrott, deputy director and chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, criticizes these deals along with officials who don’t try to get out of them.

“Government officials need to acknowledge that they made a mistake when they signed up for these ill-conceived, high-risk financial bets,” Mr. Parrott said. “But that mistake is woefully compounded when they then impose austerity rather than stand up to the banks.”

You know the score. Once again, it’s Wall Street 1, Main Street 0.

Outlook for the Economy of New York State Rural Areas

June 9, 2012, Windsor. David Dyssegaard Kallick made a presentation to a board retreat of the Rural and Migrant Ministry. The presentation focused on trends over the past 10 years in New York counties where the group works, and anticipated concerns and opportunities related to improving the lives of low-income people in rural New York.

Nikki Jones, Melanie Beam and Holly Sklar

June 7, 2012. Nikki Jones, the communications director for the Alliance for Quality Education discussed the current school funding situation in New York State and the Educate NY Now! campaign that was recently launched by AQE and other organizations concerned with the mounting threats to New York’s elementary and secondary education system.

Melanie Beam, president of Capital District Local First, and Holly Sklar, director of Business for Shared Prosperity and of its Business for a Fair Minimum Wage project, explained why they – and a growing number of business owners and business organizations – are joining the effort to increase New York State’s minimum wage from the current level of $7.25 per hour.

Pittsburgh’s new immigrants equal brain gain

May 27, 2012. An article by Christine H. O’Toole. Excerpt –

Census data show the Pittsburgh metro region dead last among 15 peers in foreign-born population. With 73,443 foreign-born citizens, the region has half the international population of Charlotte, N.C., which has 1 million fewer residents. Pittsburgh’s foreign-born population is a fifth that of Detroit and 13 percent the international population of Philadelphia, both more populous Metropolitan Statistical Areas.

But recent Brookings Institution analysis reveals that the region is another kind of outlier: Though only 3 percent of the region’s residents are foreign born, they comprise the most highly skilled immigrant group in the entire country, with a concentration of expertise in science and engineering. Like Mr. Rimal, more than 53 percent (30,542) hold a bachelor’s degree or higher.

The two distinctions suggest that Pittsburgh has completed its transition to an “eds and meds” economy, driven by the universities and health care industry, but has yet to find the robust growth across sectors that would pull more immigrants to the region.Many of Pittsburgh’s peer regions face the same dilemma. The Brookings report noted the “very high concentration of high-skilled immigrants in older industrial metro areas in the Midwest and Northeast such as Albany [N.Y.], Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Syracuse [N.Y.].” The ratio of highly skilled immigrants for Detroit and Milwaukee, other benchmark regions, are equally strong.

A recent Fiscal Policy Institute study of the issue correlates the two phenomena. “It’s not so much that metro Pittsburgh has a very large number of high-skilled immigrants as that immigration overall is comparatively low,” concludes report author David Dyssegaard Kallick. “In a booming metro area, both higher- and lower-skilled immigrants will be part of the economic picture.”

Viewed through the lens of long-term economic growth, Pittsburgh’s blue-chip immigrants are an unquestioned asset. But its future strengths may not rely solely on the STEM researchers, high-tech entrepreneurs and medical experts, but on the families now struggling to achieve a foothold in the region. The Brookings Institution report, titled “The Geography of Immigrant Skills,” notes that nationally, many highly educated immigrants like Mr. Rimal are underemployed.

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