A new report from the Michigan League for Public Policy released today highlights the contributions of Michigan immigrants as entrepreneurs, economic drivers and job-creators. Immigrants are almost twice as likely as U.S.-born individuals to become entrepreneurs, and in Michigan immigrants make up 20 percent of Main Street business owners.
“We know that immigrants are important to the fabric of Michigan, but we want our policymakers and residents to better understand just how big a role they play in local economies,” said Karen Holcomb-Merrill, Vice President of the Michigan League for Public Policy. “Immigrant-owned businesses help revitalize neighborhoods and provide jobs, and Michigan must commit to being a more welcoming state and providing better guidance and support to all people hoping to find work or start a business regardless of where they were born.”
The report, Building a Thriving Main Street: Charting Success for Michigan’s Immigrant Entrepreneurs, focuses on Main Street businesses, which are smaller-scale, locally-oriented and primarily retail, accommodation and food services, and neighborhood services. These small businesses are major drivers for Michigan’s economy and increase consumer spending, supply jobs, revive investment and provide services to the community. The report breaks down the services that immigrant business owners offer as well as the earnings they generate, which is over 12 percent of total business earnings in Michigan—roughly $1.3 billion.
Along with sharing data on immigrant-owned businesses, the report highlights the stories of two immigrant entrepreneurs in West Michigan. Farouq Karadsheh, who came from Jordan nearly 45 years ago, owns a grocery store, Mediterranean Island International Foods. Olga Benoit, who came from Haiti in 1993, started a restaurant, Chez Olga, in 2010. These two entrepreneurs share their thoughts on not only their role as business owners, but on their role as stewards in the immigrant community. The report also notes that Detroit is one of 31 metro areas across the country in which immigrants make up all growth in Main Street business ownership, and lifts up the work of ProsperUS in Detroit to support entrepreneurs who are immigrants, people of color or have lower incomes. Here’s a list of some metro Detroit immigrant-owned restaurants.
According to the report, immigrant entrepreneurs face particular hurdles to success. Main Street business owners earn less than their nonimmigrant counterparts, and in fact earn less than immigrants who are part of the civilian labor force. This is not the only disparity found in the report; discrimination based on race, ethnicity and gender also play a role in the challenges facing immigrant-owned businesses. A history of discriminatory lending practices and underinvestment in communities of color both contribute to these disparities.
In order to remove some of the barriers facing immigrant business owners, the report makes several recommendations to policymakers.
They need access to financing, for one.
“Raising money is the toughest part for most entrepreneurs, but it’s even tougher for immigrants who might not understand American lending practices and banking systems. In Michigan, it’s hard enough for immigrants to get basics like an ID card, which is crucial to becoming part of our economic system, and state officials should be doing more to support all immigrants, especially those trying to get a business off the ground,” Holcomb-Merrill said.
Other recommendations include providing better access to business planning services, developing outreach materials in languages other than English and easing racial tensions by implementing “welcoming city” initiatives that will help Michigan to thrive as the state’s demographics continue to change.
For more information on the Michigan League for Public Policy’s broader immigration work, including county data and fact sheets, visit www.mlpp.org/immigration.
The Michigan League for Public Policy, www.mlpp.org, is a nonprofit policy institute focused on economic opportunity for all. It is the only state-level organization that addresses poverty in a comprehensive way.
Source: Alex Rossman News Release, August 2, 2018.