Massachusetts is no stranger to the many benefits immigrant entrepreneurs bring to communities. From family owned restaurants and shops along small town main streets, to large Fortune 500 companies, immigrant-owned businesses make sizeable contributions to Massachusetts. And as a growing number of places around the country make efforts to attract and welcome immigrants, Massachusetts continues to expand the state’s efforts. October 15 marked the start of the third annual Massachusetts Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month, which will officially run through November 15. State groups—including the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC), the New Americans Integration Institute at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), and the state’s Office for Refugees and Immigrants—are leading the initiative, which recognizes the contributions of immigrant business owners and innovators to Massachusetts’ economic development.
According to the Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month 2013 website, “Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been vital to Massachusetts’ success. From the high-tech firms of Cambridge to the neighborhood storefronts of Lowell, the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants helps to revitalize neighborhoods, strengthen local economies and keep Massachusetts innovating.” When kicking off the month in Boston, Gov. Deval Patrick emphasized “the entrepreneurial spirit of immigrants who start businesses and create jobs that fuel the Massachusetts economy.”
Immigrant entrepreneurs in Massachusetts make large contributions to their communities. For example, from 2006 to 2010, there were 50,778 new immigrant business owners in Massachusetts, and in 2010, 17.5 percent of all business owners in Massachusetts were foreign-born. And in Boston, the state’s capital and largest metropolitan area, the foreign-born share of business owners was 15 percent. Also in 2010, new immigrant business owners had total business revenue of $2.8 billion, which is 14 percent of all business income in the state. Furthermore, Massachusetts is home to many successful companies with at least one founder who was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, including five of the state’s 11 Fortune 500 companies. Those five companies—including Staples, TJX, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Boston Scientific, and Biogen Idec—employ over 280,000 people and bring in $73 billion in revenue each year.
But while the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story of an individual business owner’s path to success. Consider these two Massachusetts-based examples: Klara Sotonova, who migrated on her own from the Czech Republic at age 19, started Klara’s Gourmet Cookies in Lee in 2006. Today, she and her husband distribute the cookies to 120 specialty and high-end grocery stores in several northeast states. And there’s Charles Mwangi, from Kenya. He owns and operates Comfort Care Resource Group, a transport service specializing in medical, non-emergency transport, in Woburn.
As the Immigrant Learning Center states, “entrepreneurship is one of the most significant ways in which immigrants have positively impacted the United States and Massachusetts in particular. Immigrant entrepreneurs have contributed to economic gain, job creation, rise in intellectual capital, neighborhood revitalization and cultural enrichment.” In addition to starting restaurants, groceries, retail, and other service businesses in towns and cities across Massachusetts, immigrants also start businesses in mid- to high-growth industries and seek out niches in underserved markets, such as transportation, food-related industries, and building and facilities services. And as the ILC notes, “food intended to be a taste of home for compatriots in local restaurants and grocery stores becomes popular and influences the eating habits of other Americans.”
As the evidence mounts showcasing the many benefits immigrant-owned businesses bring to local communities, it’s important to acknowledge that immigrant entrepreneurs may have come through a variety of immigration pathways, including through family-based immigration. Therefore, strengthening all immigration pathways and providing potential entrepreneurs with the opportunities they need to succeed and contribute is yet another reason why comprehensive immigration reform is needed. Ensuring the success of immigrant entrepreneurs, whether they come to the U.S. through family immigration, employment immigration, as a refugee, or through other means, helps assure the success of communities more broadly.