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Oksana DlabohaJuly 5, 2019

Immigrant-owned Small Businesses Ring up $4.4 Billion in New Jersey

By Ihor Dlaboha

Whether personally or ancestrally, we, as a country, are all immigrants. Just look at your surname or ask your grandmother.

We heard Lady Liberty’s bidding and we swarmed from all corners of the globe to her shores to escape subjugation, persecution or economic hardships.

Once in America, immigrants soon discovered that contrary to rumors its streets aren’t paved with gold. Lacking English-language skills and comprehensive legal status, they were compelled to fend for themselves. As they struggled to build a better life for themselves and their families, the new settlers, as a consequence, made vast contributions to their adopted homeland.

More often than not, these immigrants opened small businesses in order to make ends meet. And their successes and achievements multiplied. So much so that today small businesses that are owned by immigrants have become the cornerstone of New Jersey’s economy, according to a new report released by the Trenton-based New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP).

At a press call yesterday, New Jersey officials and immigrant businessmen shared their experiences and observations about being entrepreneurs in a foreign country.

These are the key findings of the report prepared by Erika Nava, NJPP policy analyst: 

  • Despite making up only 22 percent of the state’s population, immigrants own 47 percent of New Jersey’s Main Street businesses
  • New Jersey immigrants own a higher share of the state’s Main Street businesses than anywhere else in the nation other than California
  • New Jersey immigrants own 31 percent of the state’s small businesses and makeup 28 percent of the state labor force.
  • New Jersey immigrants own a majority of businesses in nine key industries (including restaurants, grocery stores, and trucking).

“This report is proof that New Jersey’s immigrants are an asset not only to our state’s rich and diverse culture, but also to the broader economy,” observed Nava. “Immigrants in New Jersey own a higher share of Main Street businesses than in any other state not named California. These immigrant-owned businesses anchor local economies across the state, providing goods, services, and job opportunities in their respective communities. When immigrants come to this state, they do so not only to provide for their families, but to invest in New Jersey. Lawmakers should recognize the vital role that immigrants play in our economy and ensure state laws support them.”

The results of this report underscore a nationwide trend that immigrants are almost twice as likely to start new businesses as their native-born peers. In New Jersey, immigrant-owned businesses generate $4.4 billion in annual income, with $950 million coming from Main Street businesses.

That contribution alone is enough to startle any state politician into realizing that immigrant businessmen and women deserve as much support as possible for them to survive and flourish.

The state’s immigrant business owners are much more diverse than US-born business owners. They also own a diverse array of businesses: immigrant owners make up 8 out of 10 dry cleaners and 7 out of 10 grocery stores and bodegas. Further, immigrant entrepreneurs own 50 percent or more of the state’s household maintenance businesses, transportation services, nail salons, computer service centers, restaurants, and clothing stores.

To avoid confusion among non-immigrant entrepreneurs, I asked what qualifies a business to be regarded as an immigrant-owned business. I was told that the business owner must be foreign born and a recent arrival in the United States without citizenship. If the business owner is fortunate enough to grow his small company and pass it to his children who were born in the USA, then that firm ceases to be an immigrant-owned company and transitions to a minority-owned firm.

In addition to forming a business for his or her family’s financial security, the NJPP said there is mounting evidence that immigrants are also more likely to start and own small businesses because they face discrimination in the job market due to limited English proficiency and, sometimes, their citizenship status.

Indeed, job discrimination, exclusion, segregation and other similar illegal actions have been known to sink many potentially beneficial companies.

Because of their neighborhood nature, small businesses, especially those on Main Street, help neighborhoods stay economically active and, in some cases, revitalize cities experiencing population decline. Small businesses also help increase the local tax base and stimulate consumer spending in local economies. They also help local civic organizations, sports teams and houses of worship. If you don’t believe that, look at the walls of any dry cleaner or grocery store and note the different letters and photos that recognize their financial generosity.

“We also provide good jobs to our workers. We encourage our elected officials to support immigrant small business owners and to recognize our work and our contributions to the economy. Too often immigrants are shamed as stealing jobs. We are actually creating jobs across the Garden State. New Jersey should recognize our contributions by making it easier for immigrants to participate in our economy and support our families,” said Abril Hernandez, owner of Ay Chihuahua! In Passaic.

Passaic Mayor Hector Lora echoed that observation: “This report supports with hard numbers what anyone who has walked down Passaic Avenue or Main Street knows — that immigrant owned small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy here in Passaic and across New Jersey. Immigrant small businesses inject money into the local economy, help employ thousands of New Jerseyans, and provide critical services to our communities. Our state lawmakers must take into account the large contributions of immigrants to the Garden State as they make policies that impact us all.”

Everything is not rosy for immigrants when they decide to start their own businesses.

Lack of language skills is the most obvious. Then there are the lack of familiarity with the procedure for launching an enterprise even a small one; what applications are required; how to prepare business plans; where to turn for legal advice. A plea was heard from the participants for expanding driver’s licenses to all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status.

These vital needs about launching a small business can easily be satisfied by getting the word out to immigrant-owned business owners that they should visit any one of the 12 New Jersey Small Business Development Centers. There they will be provided with a treasure chest of tools with which they can start a small business or expand it. And it’s not a onetime encounter. Their affiliation with the NJSBDC will last as long as they need it. The best part about it is that the information and hands-on consultative services are free.

The achievements and contributions to New Jersey’s economy by these latter-day Horatio Algers are even more confounding when you realize that they were done without official help. Imagine what can be attained with even a small helping hand.

For information about the NJSBDC, visit its website at www.njsbdc.com.

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