Study Highlights Need for Immigrant Inclusion in Revitalization of Main Streets

This past week, the Fiscal Policy Institute, in conjunction with the America’s Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) released groundbreaking new research about the importance and prevalence of America’s immigrants in building and sustaining Main Street commercial retail businesses. While only 13 percent of America, immigrants make up fully 28 percent of the owners of “Main Street businesses,” defined as retail, accommodation and food services, and neighborhood service businesses.

Main Street Business OwnersMore specifically, immigrant entrepreneurs own 58 percent of dry cleaners, 53 percent of grocery stores, 38 percent of restaurants, 32 percent of all clothing stores, 28 percent of department and discount stores, and 25 percent of electronics, radio, television, and computer stores. In short, this research suggests that as planners, government leaders, nonprofits, foundations, and others seek to develop and implement strategies to revitalize Rust Belt and Midwest cities, neighborhoods, and communities, as well as to continue the growth of downtown commercial districts, they had best consider the role that immigrants play, can play, and will play. Anything less is to turn one’s back to a significant source of investment, risk-taking, ingenuity, hard work, and opportunity.

These immigrant-owned Main Street businesses earn $13 billion annually, provide a critical source of first jobs for many in the American workforce, and “play an important role in generating neighborhood-level economic growth by making these areas attractive places to live and work,” according to the report.

On Wednesday, January 14, WE Global Network organizations from Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Philadelphia attended the release of the study in New York City, including a roundtable discussion between the study’s author David Kallick and representatives from the three metros that received more in-depth treatment and analysis—Minneapolis/St. Paul, Nashville, and Philadelphia. The report compares 2000 and 2013 Census data noting that immigrants accounted for 48 percent of overall growth of business ownership in the U.S. during this time and all of the growth in Main Street business in 31 of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas and an impressive share of the increase in the remaining 19 areas. The number of immigrant Main Street business owners increased even in the seven metro areas (of the nation’s 50 largest) that saw an overall decline in Main Street business owners (such metros include Detroit, Birmingham, Columbus, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Providence, and Pittsburgh).

The study highlights the work of two WE Global Network core organizations—the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) in Minneapolis/St. Paul and the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians in Philadelphia. NDC is recognized for its culturally competent, comprehensive micro-enterprise training, lending, and incubator development work, including its Islamic law compliant, Reba free, loan fund. The Welcoming Center is praised for its work with entrepreneurs and neighborhood revitalization groups, including its work to diffuse racial and ethnic tensions in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The WE Global Network has worked with the study’s author, David Kallick, who serves as the Director of Immigrant Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute, since our initial convening launching the Network in Detroit in June 2013. Traditionally, David has been helpful in tempering our descriptions of immigrant entrepreneurialism, critiquing our language about immigrant exceptionalism. Given our dialogue about the numbers, it was somewhat surprising and very encouraging to see such bold conclusions by the report. One should feel very confident in the study’s conclusions by such a rigorous researcher.

In addition to documenting the incredible impact immigrant Main Street businesses have had on American cities and neighborhoods, the report makes some important recommendations for local and state government, including:

  • Establish a climate of welcoming
  • Create a government office to address immigrant integration
  • Provide a culturally competent business training and services
  • Make sure programs are open to all
  • Be attentive to the challenges undocumented immigrants face
  • Take advantage of the valuable services refugee resettlement agencies offer
  • Make financing innovative and community-based
  • Link financing to training and business support
  • Establish some incubators, especially commercial kitchens
  • Improve licensing and inspections for everyone
  • Use place-based development strategies to help Main Street businesses build neighborhoods
  • Expand the reach of chambers of commerce and trade or interest groups
  • Help manage cultural and economic tensions
  • Pay attention to wages for workers

The significance of the study was highlighted in a Wall Street Journal story on it. We look forward to discussing the study’s contents and suggestions at the Third Annual Convening in Dayton. The importance of immigrants to the Main Street businesses of the Rust Belt and Midwest is evident in the winners of our Network’s “A Day in the Life of Immigrant Entrepreneurs” which features several Main Street business owners. In the coming months, we will continue to highlight the implementation of the strategies recommended by the report.

Global Cleveland gets first-hand look at St. Louis approach

From the Desk of Joy Roller

Joy Roller Anna Croslin

Joy Roller, Global Cleveland, and Anna Crosslin, International Institute of St. Louis

It’s amazing what one organization can learn from another if given the opportunity. The WE Global Network provided Global Cleveland President Joy Roller and Director of Development and Outreach Richard Konisiewicz such an opportunity to get a first-hand look at how St. Louis is approaching the issues of immigration and talent attraction when it underwrote a city-to-city visit in early January. The Network is a group of over a dozen regional economic development initiatives from across the Midwest working to tap into the economic development opportunities created by immigrants.

ClevelandTouringOne insight gained from Global Cleveland’s visit to St. Louis is the difference in how the two organizations began. Both started after the release of the 2010 U.S. Census. With continued population decline reported in both legacy cities, leaders in the metro regions created non-profit organizations to attract and welcome international talent. St. Louis created the Mosaic Project by hiring Elizabeth Cohen and housed the effort inside the World Trade Center, part of the St. Louis Regional Business Partnership (similar to Northeast Ohio’s TeamNEO). At the same time, in Cleveland, with support from Mayor Frank Jackson, corporate and philanthropic leaders, launched Global Cleveland as an independent non-profit organization.

learningSt. Louis created a master plan for attracting and welcoming immigrants and new talent to the region and integrated it into all of the city’s and region’s economic development organizations. This approach includes integrated branding using the “STL is…. One,” “STL is… Talented,” “STL is… Mosaic,” etc. logos for each of its economic organizations. This collaborative approach, and the 22-member broad-based Steering Committee, provides the Mosaic Project access to the highest levels of regional economic, corporate and higher education decision-makers and the means to get things done.

Some highlights of the Mosaic Project’s programming include the:

  • Fellows Program, launched in 2006 inside the Regional Chamber of Commerce. The yearlong program takes a holistic approach to preparing minorities for corporate, civic and non-profit leadership roles.
  • Mosaic Project’s Professional Connectors Program, modeled after Halifax Connector Program in Canada, connects skilled immigrants to community volunteers who can help them.
  • Gateway Connections, an orientation to the city for new professionals by the Regional Chamber. Newcomers meet four to six times a year creating networks of friends and professional contacts.
  • Mosaic Project’s International Student Corporate Hiring Program works in conjunction with the Regional Business Council and with local college and university professionals, to guide international students to employers willing to hire them.
Sharing insights at the Cleveland Regional Chamber

Sharing insights at the Cleveland Regional Chamber

The International Institute of St. Louis is one of the most impressive aspects of the city’s efforts to welcome and attract foreign-born talent. Under one roof, the 100 year-old center provides a comprehensive array of adjustment services that annually reaches more than 7,500 immigrants and refugees from 75 countries. Newcomers can take advantage of job preparation programs in housekeeping, nursing assistant, sewing and other occupations. To accommodate its growing offering of services, the Institute is currently moving to a new 136,000 sq. ft. campus of five buildings.

Evening reception at International Institute's new home

Evening reception at International Institute’s new home

The Institute is currently creating a series of eight-week classes for pathways to guide skilled refugees and immigrants in the healthcare and engineering fields in order that they can work in the professions in which they have been trained. Enrollees will pay for classes on a sliding fee scale to learn computer and other soft skills. As part of St. Louis’s holistic, master plan, once the students complete their classes, they will be paired with a Professional Connector and directed into the Mosaic Project’s Gold and Silver Employer programs which identify those companies open to employing international talent.

In addition to meeting with the leaders of St. Louis’s immigrant and talent attraction programs, Mosaic Project Executive Director Betsy Cohen, took Joy and Richard to the Cortex Innovation Community, a vibrant 200-acre innovation hub and technology district. After visiting the unique Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC) 4240 incubator that’s run more like a boutique hotel and meeting with leaders of bio-tech and IT incubators, it was no surprise to the Cleveland visitors that on the day we left St. Louis it was named the number one “Best Start-Up City in America.”