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Oklahoma: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Sooner State

In Oklahoma, 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 to Oklahoma’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 11,983 new immigrant business owners in Oklahoma, and in 2010, 7 percent of all business owners in Oklahoma were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total net business income of $477 million, which is 5.3 percent of all net business income in the state.

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

  • Immigrants contribute to Oklahoma’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the state’s research universities. In 2009, over 55 percent of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and more than 70 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Oklahoma were not born in the U.S.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 1,267 H-1B high-skilled visa labor certification applications in Oklahoma, with an average annual wage of $57,182, which is higher than Oklahoma’s median household income of $44,287 or per capita income of $23,770.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 3,000 new jobs in Oklahoma by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $1.1 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $1 billion. The following are examples of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The Oklahoma City metropolitan area had 585 H-1B requests in 2010-2011, with 51.3 percent of visa-holders working in STEM occupations. A major employer includes the University of Oklahoma.
    • The Tulsa metropolitan area had 483 H-1B requests in 2010-2011, with 70.6 percent of visa-holders working in STEM occupations. Major employers include Alindus Inc., and Guru IT Solutions 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 Oklahoma towns, 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.
  • Oklahoma City, as the state’s capital and largest city, contains a variety of immigrant-owned business examples. The city hosts restaurants, markets, and other businesses owned and operated by immigrants, including eateries representing cuisines from Mexico, El Salvador, Morocco, Guatemala, and Bangladesh.
    • Along SW 29th Street and other main business corridors on the southside of the city, a variety of Hispanic small businesses are thriving. Such establishments include restaurants, auto repair, markets, shops, and beauty salons. Additionally, food trucks selling Mexican food are seen in many neighborhoods around the city.
    • The Realzola family, from Mexico, owns several small businesses including a used car dealership, an auto repair shop, and a Mexican restaurant. Also in the state’s capital city, Henryk and Elizabeth Orlowski, from Poland, own and operate a real estate office.
    • Wes Salous, a Palestinian immigrant, moved to Oklahoma City from Dallas several years ago to purchase an IHOP restaurant. Today, he owns several of those restaurants around the Oklahoma City area, including a location in Bricktown. Salous’ two brothers, Salim and Sammy, operate a car lot and auto repair shop in the Mid-City area.

In Oklahoma, local leaders have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • The YWCA Tulsa Immigrant and Refugee program provides services that promote self-sufficiency for the area’s immigrant and refugee population.
    • Examples of services the program provides are English as a second language (ESL) classes, legal permanent residency application, civics and citizenship classes, interpretation and translation, job search and employment assistance, and other immigration assistance.
  • In the spring of 2013, the Oklahoma House of Representatives introduced HR 1014, “a resolution recognizing the many social and economic contributions immigrants make to the State of Oklahoma; urging Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform; and directing distribution.”
    • This resolution is an example of the state Legislature recognizing the contributions immigrants make to Oklahoma and the need for national policymakers to bring the immigration system up to date so that immigrants can more efficiently contribute and effectively integrate into the places in which they live and work. 

Download the Infographic here.

Published On: Thu, Jul 25, 2013 | Download File