As you might suspect, immigrant entrepreneurs are key drivers in the transportation, food and building services industries. And a recent report from the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC) shines a spotlight on immigrant entrepreneurship in these industries, with a particular geographic focus on Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. Concerning the three industry areas, the ILC study – through an analysis of public data and interviews with immigrant business owners and industry representatives – finds the following:
- Transportation industries: Immigrant entrepreneurs fulfill transportation needs in urban daily life, including taxi, limousine, and bus services. Specific examples indicate that immigrant transportation businesses meet a variety of needs, such as transporting disabled persons and sparking spin-off industries related to mobile advertising and transportation support businesses.
- Food-related industries: Immigrant business owners are present throughout the entire spectrum of food production from start to finish and, not surprisingly, play a large role in ethnic food businesses, including restaurants, groceries, specialty retail markets, and food manufacturing. Immigrant entrepreneurs in food-related industries often lead the response to changing market demands. And immigrant-owned businesses contribute substantially to the industry as a whole, including its growth and job creation.
- Building Services: Much of the work within this industry, which includes commercial and residential building maintenance, cleaning, waste disposal, and other services, takes place behind the scenes but is critically important to infrastructure. Companies often outsource these tasks to other establishments specializing in such services, which provides an opportunity for entrepreneurial immigrants.
The study concludes that immigrant-owned businesses in the transportation, food-related industries, and building services sectors are most often found in niches within underserved markets. By catering to niche markets, immigrant entrepreneurs help expand those markets for consumers as well as potential employees in the new jobs they create. Such businesses are “value added” and are not competing with native-owned businesses, but are helping to grow the consumer base and employment market overall. The report offers several recommendations for expanding business opportunities for immigrant entrepreneurs, two of which are:
- Increasing start-up and business operations capital in these sectors, which may include local small business development centers and economic development agencies playing a role.
- Including more immigrant entrepreneurs in local business associations and chambers of commerce.
As the ILC study shows, immigrant entrepreneurs see opportunities to fill market gaps in industries important to the infrastructure of a place. Additionally, immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs can help reinvigorate aging populations, renew communities, revitalize local economies, and create jobs. Local leadership in many of these communities see immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs as a new and dynamic source of strength for local economies. Welcoming immigrants into these communities and making it easier for immigrant entrepreneurs to open businesses is a smart move on the part of local community leaders. Facilitating and encouraging immigrant entrepreneurship at the local level involves ensuring immigrant business owners have the resources and understanding they need to become successful, which ultimately benefits everyone in a community.