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North Carolina: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives

In North Carolina, 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 economy, 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 North Carolina’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 33,120 new immigrant business owners in North Carolina, and in 2010, 8.6 percent of all business owners in the state were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total net business income of $1.7 billion, which is 7.7 percent of all net business income in the state.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs have contributed to North Carolina’s economy throughout the state’s history. Two of the state’s largest companies, Bank of America and Relativity Technologies, were founded by immigrants or their children. These two companies together employ almost 300,000 people and bring in almost $100 billion in annual revenues.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to North Carolina’s innovation economy.

  • High-skilled immigrant workers contribute to the success of many North Carolina-based companies and institutions with a significant presence in the state, including Bank of America, Accenture, Wells Fargo Bank, Synechron Inc., Duke University and Medical Center, University of North Carolina, Credit Suisse Securities, and Netapp.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 7,411 H-1B labor certification applications in North Carolina, with an average annual wage of $68,113, which is higher than North Carolina’s median household income of $48,669 or per capita income of $25,482.
  • The Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord metropolitan area had 2,210 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 80.7 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.
  • The Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area had 2,788 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 83.8 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.
  • The Greensboro-High Point metropolitan area had 448 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 63.7 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 10,700 new jobs in North Carolina by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $4.2 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $3.8 billion.

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

  • In Charlotte, many immigrant restaurateurs and grocers have opened up a variety of businesses catering to eclectic culinary tastes. Examples include Swiss immigrant Angelika Brunner’s Mecklenburg County Market; Bosnian Dono Mehic’s Euro Grill and Café; and Venezuelan Eunice Marcano’s Arepas Grill.
  • In Pineville, a section of Polk Street also known as Pineville’s International Mile, there are a variety of restaurants and markets representing many different nationalities and ethnicities. Along this stretch of highway, there are businesses with immigrant owners from the Philippines, Japan, Colombia, India, Poland, Peru, and Germany, among other places.
  • In Gastonia, Ever Cruz and his wife Carmen, immigrants from El Salvador, opened El Tamarindo in 2010, a combination grocery store and restaurant. The restaurant not only sells Salvadoran food items, but also a wide variety of Mexican and Latin American foodstuffs catering to the diverse immigrant population of the region.
  • In rural North Carolina communities, Latino immigrants have opened businesses catering to the region’s growing immigrant population. Along the way, these business help to revitalize aging main streets and streetscapes. Examples are found in many towns in rural North Carolina counties, including Duplin, Harnett, Lee, Lincoln, Montgomery, Sampson, Surry, and Wilson counties. In these places, Latino entrepreneurship has reshaped the business landscape.

    • Specifically, “in rural small towns, central business districts hollowed out by the closing or relocation of small businesses and national chains to shopping centers on the highway bypass have been revitalized by Latino business enterprises occupying the vacant shop fronts.”
    • Additionally, “in virtually every instance, downtown commercial districts have been strengthened and enhanced by the new business activity…the overwhelming reaction to the business newcomers was positive. New Latino tenants mean more traffic and more opportunities for all businesses.”
    • Furthermore, “operating like urban ethnic groups, the rural Latino entrepreneurs are initially serving the retail and service needs of their fellow immigrants. But over a short period they have already begun to incubate new businesses, helped revitalize declining commercial districts, and increasingly reoriented their business startups to attract non-Latino customers.”

Some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • UnitingNC is a Raleigh-based initiative affiliated with Welcoming America. As the organization describes, their ultimate goal is to “make our state a place in which all North Carolinians feel welcome, and together build stronger, more productive communities.” Specifically, UnitingNC implements programs that:

    • “Help recent immigrants better integrate into their new communities.” 
    • “Help longtime North Carolinians understand the challenges faced by more recent immigrants, and the dreams they hope to achieve for themselves and their families.”
    • “Provide opportunities for all North Carolinians – old and new – to share their culture, so that we can experience and appreciate both the ways that we are different and the many ways in which we are all the same.”
  • Building Integrated Communities (BIC), a program with the Latino Migration Project at the University of North Carolina, is a statewide initiative.

    • BIC works with local governments, such as the cities of High Point and Greensboro, to engage with newcomers to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication, and improve relationships.
    • BIC also helps places develop locally-driven strategies to strengthen immigrant civic engagement, linguistic achievement, and economic/educational advancement.
  • In Charlotte, an affiliate of Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties initiative, the Immigrant Integration Task Force is working in 2014 to review the recommendations from the 2007 Mayor’s Immigration Study Commission.

    • The Task Force is researching and will recommend policies that “facilitate access to city services for all residents of Charlotte, while addressing gaps in civic engagement.”
    • The Task Force will also prepare a report with recommendations to the City Council that “promotes awareness among the public of the availability of existing programs and services facilitating immigrant integration.”
    • Additionally, the Immigrant Integration Task Force is working to “seek opportunities to better educate the Charlotte community on how embracing immigrant communities will help move the city forward.”

Published On: Fri, Jul 19, 2013 | Download File