Immigrant Entrepreneurs on Main Street

It seems like there is new study on immigrant entrepreneurs released  nearly every week now.  Most of these studies focus on high tech entrepreneurs and issues like H1B visas, start-up visas, foreign graduate students and the like.  But, what about the rest of us who don’t hang out in Silicon Valley and instead do our working and shopping on Main Street?   What is the economic effect of immigrant entrepreneurs outside of the technology economy?

A recent study from the Fiscal Policy Institute assesses the growing economic impact of immigrant-owned businesses across the US.  Overall, immigrant-owned small businesses (those with between 1 and 100 employees) employ 35 million people and account for roughly 30% of all private sector employment. These businesses accounted for 30% of all US small business growth between 1990 and 2010.  Many of these firms operate in what we typically think of sectors with high immigrant populations—in sectors like taxis, restaurants and the like. Yet, the biggest sector for immigrant-owned firms is business and professional services.

These impacts are not just limited to states like California and Texas with their large immigrant populations.  Let’s take a deeper look at North Carolina, which presents a good case study.  It has had a big boom in immigration in recent years, but it falls smack in the middle of the US experience.  The state presently ranks #25 among US states for the size of its immigrant-owned small business community.  These firms have a big impact in North Carolina, representing 9% of all small business owners and accounting for 8% of all small business revenue. And, their impacts are growing—the number of immigrant small business owners in North Carolina has grown by 500% since 1990.

This report and the many others that focus on the technology economy provide further evidence that immigrant entrepreneurs are and will continue to be a critical part not just of our high technology economy but of our Main Street economy as well.


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