Friday, April 08, 2005

State of Immigrant Entrepreneurs, 2005

The State of Immigrant Entrepreneurs, 2005: A Report of the Policy Roundtable Bruce P. Corrie, PhD A distinguished panel of experts from leading nonprofits and ethnic chambers of commerce presented the panorama of immigrant entrepreneurship in Minnesota at The Policy Roundtable at the Vietnam Center in Saint Paul on April 6, 2005. Readus Fletcher, Director, Equal Opportunity of the City of St. Paul moderated the forum with Dr. Bruce Corrie, Chair of The Policy Roundtable. The Policy Roundtable produced this forum in partnership with the Department of Business at Concordia University, The Vietnam Center, the Asian Pacific Fund of the Saint Paul Foundation, and the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network. Some of the panelists provided data on the entrepreneurial activity of immigrants. Judy Romlin, Vice President, Milestone Growth Fund, the only Minnesota-based venture capital fund focusing on minority entrepreneurs stated that the Fund invested over $23 million in 69 minorities owned companies since 1990. Of these firms 42 percent are immigrants. Milestone investments over the last 10 years have generated a 9.4 percent return on investment. For the past decade, Milestone’s portfolio companies have provided employment to 800 full time employees of which 200 were new jobs. These companies paid $41 million in total taxes. Tene Wells, President of WomenVenture, stated that 19 percent of their clients were immigrants. The mission of WomenVenture is to assist women secure economic success and prosperity. Female entrepreneurs assisted by WomenVenture owned a diverse range of businesses. Teshite Wako, of Neighborhood Development Center, a neighborhood based organization providing technical assistance, loans and other services to small and minority businesses. According to Teshite, in 2003, 30 percent of the people who took NDC’s entrepreneurial training classes were new immigrants: Latino, Hmong, Somali or Oromo. As of 2003, 138 immigrant owned businesses served by NDC had created 386 new jobs and paid out $5.6 million in payroll, rent, supplies and other expenses. Other panelists presented a perspective on the geographic location of immigrant businesses. Monica Romero of the Latino Economic Development Center, Lu Hang, Chair of the Hmong Chamber of Commerce, A J Siddiqui of the Asian Chamber of Commerce and Tyler Le of the Vietnamese Chamber of Commerce presented a geographical perspective on immigrant entrepreneurship. There are a number of commercial corridors that have strong immigrant entrepreneurial presence such as University Avenue, District Del Sol, Payne Avenue, Arcade Avenue, and Rice Street in Saint Paul and Central Avenue, Lake Street, and Nicollet Avenue. The suburbs around the Twin Cities are another ring of entrepreneurship. Monica Romero talked about Latino entrepreneur growing in areas like Richfield, Chaska, Shakopee, and Hopkins. Romero also pointed to the growth of Latino entrepreneurs in rural Minnesota such as Northfield, Willmar and Worthington. Asian entrepreneurs have a strong presence in the Twin Cities and in suburbs like Eagan and Burnsville and Bloomington. African immigrant entrepreneurs are found in areas around the Twin Cities and in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. The 1997 Economic Census reported rapid rate of growth in immigrant entrepreneurship. For example in 1992 there were just 3 Minnesota cities with over 100 Asian owned businesses. In 1997 there were 11 cities with 100 or more businesses. The 1997 Economic Census also documented an increase in rural areas. The panelists were of the opinion that the rate of growth continues and will be reflected in the new data coming out shortly at the national level. The panelists also stated that many immigrant entrepreneurs built equity in their inner city businesses or real estate assets and then used this equity to start mainstream and other businesses in the suburbs. For example, Lu Hang stated that one can see this trend in the gas stations and liquor stores owned by Hmong entrepreneurs in the suburbs. Lu Hang also talked about Hmong businesses moving in waves from one sector to another from the Mom and Pop stores, to the financial services sector, to real estate and now home health care. There is a vibrant spirit of entrepreneurship in the African immigrant communities. In areas around Lake Street in Minneapolis, for example, we find the vibrant Somali minimalls and the newly formed African Development Center. According to Teshite Wako, most common types of African immigrant businesses were convenience stores, clothing stores, tax return services, restaurants, phone cards, auto services, money wiring services, coffee businesses and financial, legal, health care and real estate services. The Neighborhood Development Center, for example, also runs a pioneering loan program focusing on immigrant entrepreneurs needing financing based on Islamic principles. Some of these trends were also reflected in a survey of Asian owned businesses on University Avenue by students at Concordia University. Xue Vue an undergraduate at the Department of Business, Concordia University, presented a preliminary report updating earlier research on the avenue in 1981, 1991, 1999 and 2005. From 1 business on a 6 block stretch on University Avenue in 1981, there were over 56 businesses in 2005. Many of the businesses had expanded in terms of renovations or new constructions. Other business owners started new businesses both on the avenue as well as in other parts of the state. A full report of the survey will be released shortly. Tyler Le, talked about immigrant entrepreneurs also getting involved in international trade. A case in point was a recent trade delegation that visited Vietnam. One can also see a trend in immigrant entrepreneurs establishing businesses in the high tech areas. Teshite Wako summed up the major challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs in Minnesota: language barriers; lack of capital; lack of understanding of the US business environment; institutional issues such as regulations; predatory lending practices; over saturation of the ethnic market. Maliha Hussain, of WomenVenture, added to Wako’s list the importance of business networks and access to information about business resources. Norman Harrington of the Minnesota Minority Supplier Diversity Council talked about strategies to build networks with larger corporations. Hector Martinez of MEDA, an organization focusing exclusively on minority entrepreneurs, offered strategies in which his organization helped meet the challenges faced by immigrant entrepreneurs. The program will be aired on Ch 19 in Saint Paul and on Metro Channel 6 in the next few weeks. For more information please contact Dr. Bruce Corrie, Concordia University, 651 641 8226 or