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Immigrant Enterprises: Born in the U.S.A.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Last year, U.S. gross domestic product hovered sluggishly between two and three percent. Unemployment remained well above eight percent. And if that weren’t bad enough, banks maintained a tight rein on credit. For entrepreneurs, the environment was unwelcoming and unforgiving. So who created 28% of all new firms in 2011?


In addition, immigrants were twice as likely to start a new business compared to native-born Americans. As a recent article on CNNMoney’s website points out, this represents a significant shift in the demographics of American entrepreneurship. ( In the late 1990s, immigrants only constituted 14% of all entrepreneurs, and in just over a dozen years, this number has doubled. So what caused the surprising spike?

According to Professor Rob Fairlie of the University of California-Santa Cruz, immigrants tend to be disproportionately represented in low-wage sectors like construction. Fairlie contends that immigrants resorted to entrepreneurialism to pay their bills. Hispanics were especially hit hard by the economic crisis, but they also rose to the challenge and are now creating new enterprises faster than any other ethnic group.

More importantly, Hispanics are not only creating jobs to support themselves, they are also creating opportunities for other U.S. workers. In fact, DeVere Kutscher, the chief of staff at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, maintains that Hispanics are playing a key role in America’s recovery. Kutscher points out that “…their enterprises are creating jobs and helping lead the country out of recession.”

Greater tolerance is also spurring such entrepreneurialism as immigrants further intertwine themselves into the fabric of their new adopted country. For instance, Maribel Lieberman, who arrived as a teenager in the United States in 1980 from Honduras, now runs a gourmet chocolate factory that employs 23 people. She notes, “We’re more accepted now, and psychologically for me, it was a great help… We’re becoming more integrated into American culture, and it’s giving us the freedom to achieve the American Dream.”

Overall, immigrants launched over 170,000 new companies last year. Coming here with very little and appreciating America as a land of opportunity, even the abysmal business climate could not deter them. Many of them simply felt they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is a spirit that is not distinctly immigrant but distinctly American. Despite negative stereotypes, many immigrants are arriving here not asking what America can do for them, but rather, what can they do for America, in true Kennedyesque fashion. And in starting new businesses, they are doing much to get the U.S. back on its feet.

It’s an empowering model that all U.S. citizens can embrace today, and the more they do so, the more we will be that model that empowers native and immigrant residents alike to fulfill tomorrow’s chapter of American greatness.

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