Immigrants outpacing the general population in owning small businesses

June 14, 2012. Study: Nearly one half of small businesses in New York City are owned by immigrants. An article by Phyllis Furman, New York Daily News.

They’re coming to America – and starting businesses.

Immigrant entrepreneurship is on the rise both in New York City and across the country, with immigrants owning a disproportionately large number of small businesses, according to a just released study from the Fiscal Policy Institute.

As of 2010, more than one in six small business owners in the U.S. were immigrants, the study found. And in New York City, nearly one half of entrepreneurs were born in foreign countries.

By contrast, immigrants accounted for a smaller portion of the population – 13% of the U.S. and 36% of New York City.

Two decades ago, immigrants made up just 8% of the U.S. population and accounted for 12% of small business owners.

“I am not sure people are aware of how big and growing a role immigrants are playing as business owners,” David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of the Fiscal Policy Institute’s Immigration Research told the Daily News. “Immigrants are expanding the economy.”

Among the other findings: Immigrants don’t just own companies, they put millions to work. As of 2007, immigrant businesses had $776 billion in revenues and employed 4.7 million.

“I believe we are here for one reason: to succeed, to achieve the American dream,” immigrant business owner Lowell Hawthorne, the CEO of Bronx-based Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery & Grill, told the News.

Immigrant women are more likely to start businesses than U.S.-born women and the majority of immigrant business owners – 58% – do not have a college degree, the study found.

With its high concentration of foreign born residents, the New York metro area ranked No. 3, behind Miami and Los Angeles, in having the largest share of immigrant small business owners (36%).

In certain New York City industries, immigrant business owners overwhelmingly dominate. Those include dry cleaners – where a whopping 90% of business owners are immigrants – taxi services, grocery stores, child day care, beauty salons and restaurants.

There are more local small business owners from China than any other country, followed by the Dominican Republic, Korea and India.

In 1981, at age 21, Hawthorne, left behind his parents in Jamaica and moved to the Bronx to join several of his siblings.

For nearly a decade, he worked as an accountant for the New York City Police Department before getting the idea for a business: a Jamaican eatery that would bring the taste of home to New York’s Jamaican population.

Hawthorne and his siblings mortgaged their homes, raised $100,000 and in 1989 opened the first Golden Krust on Gun Hill Rd. in the Bronx. From there, the chain would grow rapidly, becoming a franchise company in 1996.

Today, Golden Krust has 120 restaurants, annual sales of more than $100 million and 1,600 employees.

“Living in the United States, there are tremendous opportunities if one wants to work hard,” said Hawthorne, who has just come out with a book “The Baker’s Son,” which chronicles his immigrant entrepreneurship story. “We saw there was opportunity, we ran with it and we never stopped.”