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Georgia: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Peach State

In Georgia, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation industries and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Georgia’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 63,342 new immigrant business owners in Georgia, and in 2010, 15.5 percent of all business owners in Georgia were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total net business income of $2.9 billion, which is 12.3 percent of all net business income in the state.
  • Georgia is home to many successful companies with at least one founder who was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, including well-known companies such as Home Depot and United Parcel Service. Those two companies together employ almost 730,000 people and bring in $125 billion in revenue each year.
  • In 2010, the foreign-born share of business owners was 21 percent in the Atlanta metropolitan area. In the case of Atlanta, the immigrant business ownership rate was higher than the foreign-born share of the total population.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Georgia’s innovation industries, which in turn helps lead American innovation and creates jobs.

  • Immigrants contribute to Georgia’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the state’s research universities. In 2009, almost half of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and around 60 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Georgia were not born in the U.S.
  • Immigrants in Georgia also contribute to the state’s innovation economy by earning patents on new research, products, and ideas. In fact, around 88 percent of patents from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2011 had at least one foreign-born inventor. These patents often lead to revenue and job creation through licensing or the creation of new companies.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 9,563 H-1B high-skilled visa labor certification applications in Georgia, with an average annual wage of $66,419, which is higher than Georgia’s median household income of $49,736 or per capita income of $25,383.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 11,900 new jobs in Georgia by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $4.9 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $4.45 billion. The following is an example of a metropolitan area’s demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta metropolitan area had 8,309 H-1B visa requests in 2010-2011, with 74.2 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations. Major employers with a need for H-1B high-skilled workers include Emory University, NIIT Technologies Limited, and Manhattan Associates Inc.

While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.

  • Immigrant entrepreneurs not only contribute to large innovative companies, but to small business formation in local communities. In cities across Georgia, immigrant family-owned small businesses contribute to the vitality of their local communities. Although initially aimed at other immigrant customers, many businesses quickly see an expansion of their clientele to include a diverse array of immigrant and native-born customers alike.
  • The sprawling Atlanta metropolitan area contains many examples of immigrant entrepreneurship contributing to the vibrancy of local communities. For example, in Atlanta’s northeast suburbs of Chamblee and Doraville, Atlanta’s “International Village” along Buford Highway is a business corridor of immigrant and ethnic restaurants, markets, shops, specialty stores, and other businesses representing many points of origin from around the world.
    • Specifically, Atlanta’s “Buford Highway international corridor is jam-packed with strip malls featuring native cuisines of varied immigrant populations, one next door to another. One parking lot may be shared by restaurants offering Chinese potstickers, Salvadorian pupusas, Mexican beef tongue tacos, and Korean barbecue.”
    • Along the bustling six-lane Buford Highway, one of the earlier areas for immigrant settlement in the region, “numerous aging strip malls that line the highway have been converted to large ethnic and multiethnic plazas, with names like Chinatown Square (1988), Asian Square Mall (1993), and Plaza Fiesta (2000). In many ways, immigrants have economically and socially revived an area that faced economic stagnation and population decline.”
    • Furthermore, the immigrant-owned businesses in the area represent a diversity of backgrounds, including “Vietnamese, Mexican, Korean, Chinese, Colombian, and Salvadoran, among others. The businesses include restaurants, bakeries, book and music stores, and clothing shops as well as the offices of travel agencies, doctors, real estate brokers, and insurance agents.”
    • As one researcher noted about this area of metropolitan Atlanta, “the five-mile stretch of highway running through Chamblee, Doraville, and Norcross constitutes the greatest concentration of ethnic-owned businesses in the southeastern U.S.”
  • In central Georgia, immigrant-owned businesses have become more prominent as the area’s immigrant population has grown.
    • In Macon, Jack Joshi, originally from southern India, found a niche by opening Indian grocery store to serve the area’s growing Indian and Asian population. Speaking of his store, Joshi said, “There are a lot of Asians here who like spicy food…This is stuff you can’t get at an American grocery store.”
    • Also in Macon, along Pio Nono Avenue, Jorge Villarreal, from Mexico, together with his brother Jose, opened El Carnival Latin Food Store, a market filled with products from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean.
    • Moises Velez, part-owner and editor of the Hispanic newspaper Que Pasa, decided to relocate the paper’s offices to the same plaza as Villarreal’s food store. The business’s neighbors also include a Mexican bakery, and a couple of Mexican restaurants.
  • In small towns across Georgia, immigrants have opened up shops and restaurants to cater to the growing immigrant populations working in the state’s agricultural and food processing industries.
    • In north Georgia, for example, “newcomers have put down roots, built stable communities, and helped to revive dying and abandoned business sections of towns such as Dalton and Gainesville, Georgia.”
    • In northwest Georgia, examples of immigrant-owned businesses are found in many small towns. For example, Edel López, from Mexico, owns El Cancún Restaurant in LaFayette, and another Mexican restaurant in Chatsworth. Esteban Pacheco, also from Mexico, opened La Herradura grocery store in Dunlap.

In Georgia, localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • Based in Atlanta, Welcoming America is a “national, grassroots-driven collaborative that promotes mutual respect and cooperation between foreign-born and U.S.-born Americans. Through a countrywide network of member organizations and partners, Welcoming America works to promote a welcoming atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants and native born residents can find common ground and shared prosperity.”
    • Welcoming America accomplishes its mission by supporting a national network of state and local affiliates to “empower supportive residents of local communities to transform their towns and cities into Welcoming communities.”
    • Concerning Atlanta and the state of Georgia specifically, according to Rachel Steinhardt, Deputy Director of Welcoming America, “Welcoming America is based in Atlanta and a number of activities are underway to provide a warmer reception for newcomers in the region, including the formation of a local Welcoming Atlanta.
    • In September 2013, Welcoming America presented a session at the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta’s fifth annual Neighborhood Summit. This session was designed to help participants “think about new ways to build relationships of trust and understanding between immigrants and the long-time residents and work together to identify new strategies and contribute toward a vision of a more welcoming Atlanta region.”
  • In the City of Atlanta, Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed recognizes the contributions of immigrants to the city. As such, he voiced his support for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013, stating, “There is no doubt that the economic, social and cultural contributions of immigrants continue to enrich our cities and communities. We cannot ever forget that immigrants have helped make our nation stronger. This is an issue of great importance here in Georgia.”


Published On: Tue, Jul 02, 2013 | Download File