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Immigrant Entrepreneurship Drives Economies

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

In its annual "40 Under 40" list for 2013, the Silicon Valley Business Journal created a roster of names that demonstrate the close connection that 'American ingenuity' continues to share with a 'melting pot' ethos. 

Take Sumit Agarwal -- a cofounder of Shape Security -- for instance. Born in Jabalpur, India, Agarwal attended MIT, founded, funded and sold a company called Quova, and then helped to launch Google's mobile business. More recently, President Obama appointed Agarwal as the U.S. Senior Advisor for Cyber Innovation at the Department of Defense. Prior to that, he had served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. 

In fact, nearly a quarter of those on the 'Under 40' list were born outside of the U.S. According to an American Immigration Council report, immigrant entrepreneurship is key to helping communities thrive and, often, drives economic revitalization. Clearly those on the 'Under 40' list exemplify the heights that successful immigrant entrepreneurs can reach. Yet, the small businesses started by newcomers to the U.S. do even more to change the faces of once-struggling communities.

For example, initiatives in Detroit, St. Louis and small-town Iowa seek to cultivate a welcoming environment for newcomers as a component of economic development. The initiatives have worked and changed the fortunes of downtrodden neighborhoods. The American Immigration Council suggests that "[c]ities interested in charting a welcoming path can learn from those places already planning and implementing such initiatives and programs."

Because the social and economic contributions of immigrants to their local communities is clear, policymakers should take steps to make entrepreneurship an accessible and available option to non-U.S.-born newcomers. In doing so, communities not only open the door to businesses built to serve the immigrants -- like lawyers and insurance agents who speak the languages of their homelands -- but also to the revival of skills and talents that are no longer commonplace in this country.

In Minneapolis, for example, Luisa Fernanda Garcia, an artist from Medellin, Colombia, started a hand-crafted shoe business, Ina Grau. One of a handful of custom shoemakers in the U.S., Garcia, along with her American partner, have garnered national and international recognition for their work. Without open attitudes toward immigrant entrepreneurship, artisans like Garcia and movers like Agarwal would have been unable to make their valuable economic and cultural contributions to their communities and to the U.S. 

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