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Entrepreneurship and Innovation Update - January 29, 2014

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For economic development, cities and metropolitan areas attract, welcome, and encourage immigrant entrepreneurs. A January 15 post on Immigration Impact highlights a new report from the American Immigration Council (AIC) discussing cities and metropolitan regional initiatives to attract, welcome, and encourage immigrant entrepreneurship. The growing awareness of the important contributions that new and existing immigrants make to neighborhood revitalization is seen in the increasing number of cities pursuing a nexus of immigrant welcoming, integration, and economic development initiatives. The report focuses on the journeys of three places—Detroit, St. Louis, and rural communities in Iowa—in their efforts to implement strategies for future economic success. The report’s release coincided with an AIC organized briefing on Capitol Hill on January 15 at which Steve Tobocman, the Director of Global Detroit, Betsy Cohen, the Director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, and Himar Hernandez with Iowa State University, presented. Benjamin Johnson of AIC moderated. Fusion.net and the National Journal subsequently featured comments from the briefing.    

Immigrant entrepreneurs are investors in their communities. The Immigrant Learning Center (ILC) recently described these points at an event hosted by the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians where they presented a summary of their findings from their report on immigrant entrepreneurs in growing industries. The report notes that, while immigrant business owners embrace opportunities to invest in their communities, they also face challenges, including access to startup capital. Additionally, a January 8 post on Immigration Impact highlights ways in which immigrant entrepreneurs invest in their communities. Through their business and ancillary endeavors, for instance, they make civic and financial investments.

Immigrant business owners contribute to communities across America. As part of our project on immigrant entrepreneurs, innovation, and local welcoming initiatives, the American Immigration Council (AIC) recently published a new fact sheet for Alaska. With this latest addition, there are now 35 state fact sheets available in this series (with more on the way). These new state fact sheets highlight the importance of entrepreneurship and innovation to local economies, and ways in which local leaders recognize this and encourage an inclusive environment through local welcoming and integration initiatives. Additional state information is available from AIC’s state resource pages for all fifty states. 

District-by-district profiles highlight congressional district immigrant population. AIC has now released over 120 congressional district profiles. These fact sheets highlight a congressional district’s foreign born population, age range, levels of education, English language ability, duration of residence in the U.S. and industries in which they work.

News Updates 

The talent and innovations of immigrants are good for America. A January 11 article in the Diplomatic Courier describes some of the positive benefits immigrants bring to America through their innovation and talent. But, as the article notes, those opportunities are not fully manifested under the current, outdated immigration system. As David Chavern of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urges, “If we do not fix our immigration system, we will send the most inventive and entrepreneurial citizens of the world the message that their ideas and efforts are not welcome in the United States.”

With the Start-up Chile visa program for foreign entrepreneurs, Chile’s gain is the United States’ loss. In a December 20 article in Venture Beat, Susan Cohen describes her observations of the Start-up Chile visa program for foreign entrepreneurs. While the Chilean government actively encourages entrepreneurship and business incubation by the foreign-born, Cohen notes that “the U.S. immigration system throws up roadblocks to entrepreneurs.” “There is no ‘startup’ visa, and the visa options that exist are unwieldy and often impractical,” she states. Cohen observes much success in Chile’s startup visa program for foreign entrepreneurs, noting that recipients of the Start-up Chile visa are “treated to a first class incubation program.” Describing the situation in the U.S., however, Cohen said, “What we have now is the same tired, limited work visa options for entrepreneurs that have been in place in the U.S. for years…The U.S. simply does not offer visas that are ‘entrepreneur-friendly’.” She concludes by issuing the following observation: “As excited and stimulated as I was to watch the Start-up Chile program in action, I was equally sad that its existence reflects a shortcoming in U.S. immigration law. Many companies being incubated by Start-up Chile will be successful. Of these, a good number will seek to establish operations in the U.S. but will be thwarted by the lack of viable visa options. As a consequence, these dynamic new firms will set up in another country.”

U.S. cities race to attract immigrants through new policies that encourage immigration reform as a key part of their growth strategies. In a December 25 article for Al Jazeera America, David Lubell of Welcoming America shines a spotlight on the growing number of cities across America that are recognizing, based on an increasing body of research, the potential benefits immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs bring to local places. Lubell notes that communities are in a race to attract talent and human capital to thrive in a global economy. He also observes that in cities, despite other levels of government remaining gridlocked, municipal leaders can continue to innovate and lead for the future success of their region. 

Michigan seeks immigrant talent to revive its economy. A January 15 article for Fusion.net, and a January 17 article in the National Journal,highlights comments made at a briefing held by the American Immigration Council on Capitol Hill about places that are working to attract and encourage immigrants and entrepreneurs. In particular, the articles spotlight comments by one of the panelists—Steve Tobocman, Director of Global Detroit, who noted that local leaders “saw immigration as part of the solution for our economic rebirth.” Also this week, in his January 16 State of the State address, Gov. Rick Snyder announced his support for creating the “Michigan Office for New Americans” designed to attract talented immigrants and help them integrate into Michigan communities. Regarding the current immigration system and the need for immigration reform at the federal level, Tobocman noted, “Right now our federal [immigration] system is really in the way for our growth and prosperity.”

Immigrants are disproportionately contributing to Rust Belt economies, including Baltimore. In a December 26 op-ed for the Baltimore Sun, Andrew Wainer, author of Bread for the World Institute’s report on immigrants in Rust Belt cities, describes how immigrants contribute to Baltimore’s revitalization. Wainer notes that in communities such as Baltimore, “immigration has slowed—and in some cases reversed—decades of population loss.” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stated that Baltimore is “open for business, particularly in the area of Latino immigrants. We've actively recruited Latino immigrants to Baltimore, and when they come here, they're thriving. Many have opened businesses, employed individuals...I think it's a win-win.”

New York City’s Office of Immigrant Affairs has become a global model. A December 30 article for the New York Times describes New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and its impact in New York and in other cities looking to implement similar immigrant integration strategies. The Office, led by Fatima Shama, has become a global model for cities seeking effective ways to encourage immigrant integration. The Office published Blueprints for Immigrant Integration in April 2013, laying out their recommended strategies for connecting with and serving a city’s immigrant population. Shama stated that over 50 cities worldwide are using the blueprints to guide their work. 

Immigrants drive economic progress nationally and locally, and Congress should better support immigrant-owned small businesses. A December 26 article in the National Journal urges Congress to do more to support immigrant-owned small businesses. Immigrants “run nearly one in five small businesses and are responsible for more than 25 percent of all new business creation and related job growth.” The article reiterates that, “in city after city, growing immigrant communities have sparked revitalization and enriched local culture…They bring much-needed capital and help grow the population.” Fixing our immigration system “to attract new entrepreneurs and startups instead of driving them away” is a first step towards helping small businesses thrive.  

Immigration reform tops the list of what small business owners want from Washington in 2014. A December 31 article in the Washington Post notes that small business owners want Congress to focus on immigration reform in 2014. As one example of this sentiment, Jared Burbank, an Internet business owner in Pueblo, Colorado, stated, “We need to fix our broken system in a comprehensive way that ensures a pathway to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented people living and working in this country, because immigrants are entrepreneurs and job creators, and they boost consumer demand in local economies.” Shradha Agarwal, co-founder of a health education services firm in Chicago, regarding retention of international students, said, “Given the early stage of our company, we are not able to hire college recruits for a year on their student visa, train them, and lose them to the H1B process uncertainty. Many of these talented graduates then have to leave the country, which is a huge loss for us…An immigration reform bill that allows science and math graduates to stay and be employed in technology companies would be a win-win for the country.” 

More immigration means more jobs for Americans. A December 29 article in the Wall Street Journal notes that, while there are many reasons to support immigration reform, “none is more important than the critical role it would play in helping end America’s jobs crisis.” While immigrants represent around 13 percent of the U.S. population, they account for around 20 percent of small business owners. Immigrants have also launched half of the country’s top startups, an important point to note since startups account for almost all net new job creation. Immigrants were also involved with more than 75 percent of the approximately 1,500 patents awarded at the top 10 U.S. research universities in 2011. The U.S. is at risk of losing talent if it fails to revamp its outmoded immigration system. Other countries have upgraded their immigration policies to meet twenty-first century demands. Yet, like someone who refuses to upgrade their software or operating system, the U.S. is still operating an older model.