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Immigrants and Neighborhood Vitality

Wednesday Feb 18, 2015 - Comments: 0


Perhaps you’ve witnessed immigrant-owned shops, ethnic restaurants, or specialty grocery stores flourishing along previously distressed commercial corridors.  As time passes, you notice that their presence is boosting the local economy and shaping the community’s character, returning life to a vital neighborhood retail center.


It turns out that what you saw is part of a national trend of immigrant-owned ‘Main Street’ businesses that are contributing to neighborhood revitalization. 



In Bringing Vitality to Main Street – How Immigrant Small Businesses Help Local Economies Grow - a report published by the Fiscal Policy Institute (FPI) and Americas Society/Council of the Americas (AS/COA) – the FPI explored immigrant business ownership patterns nationwide by analyzing data from the American Community Survey (ACS) and the Survey of Business Owners (SBO).   


Through this macro-level analysis, they uncovered some illuminating facts and figures that bring the outsized economic impact of immigrant-owned Main Street businesses into focus.  These include:


  • Between 2000 and 2013, 48 percent of business growth nationwide was from immigrants, and strikingly, all of the Main Street gains were from businesses owned by foreign-born residents. 
  • When assessed at the city level, Main Street development within 31 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas was exclusively immigrant-driven, and accounted for a significant amount of the growth in the remaining 19 cities. 
  • In a number of cities, immigrants are meaningfully contributing to population growth.  Cities with modest or falling immigration numbers had no population gains between 1970 and 2013, whereas ‘rebound’ cities – those with growth following a period of post-1950 population decline - had an influx of immigrants; sometimes they even completely erased any existing population deficit.


They followed this with a deep-dive examination of what three cities - Philadelphia, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Nashville - are doing to forge meaningful relationships and support structures for their immigrant communities.  The study not only tracks demographic trends, but unearths strategies used by these cities to help support immigrant businesses and integrate them into the city fabric. 


The following are some of the recommendations emerging from the case studies:


  • Build an Immigrant-Friendly Reputation – Strong leadership that actively and publically supports immigration is important; so are well-developed alliances between various community players, both public and private. 
  • Create Business Support Centers that Cater to Immigrant Needs and Develop Appropriate Financial Tools – Immigrants may face language barriers and are often unfamiliar with the American business environment.  They also tend to lack credit, which makes it challenging to access traditional financing tools.  As a result, they often rely more on savings and other resources to start and maintain their businesses.  Establishing centers that help immigrants navigate the legal and financial sectors can support business development, especially if courses are offered in their native language.  Facilitating the creation of lending circles and other financial instruments that help build credit and provide non-predatory alternatives to traditional lending can also spur business growth.      
  • Do Not Leave US-Born Business Owners Behind – An inflow of new  immigrant businesses is good for the economy, but can also be threatening to already-established business communities.  It is important to maintain transparency, encourage dialogue, and make sure that benefits extend to all business owners.


Findings from this report suggest that significant revitalization can take place by creating a supportive environment for immigrant-owned businesses.  Neighborhoods become more dynamic, and the local economy and tax base reap the benefits. 


How are you creating a supportive environment for neighborhood businesses?  Has immigration been a source of economic revitalization in your community? 


To read the whole report, click here


Photo Courtesy of Middle Main Poughkeepsie


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