America cannot afford to turn its back on immigrants. Immigrant makers, doers, and dreamers create American jobs; innovators and laborers further U.S. competitiveness. The challenge for the United States, therefore, is to change the national discussion from “taking jobs” to “making jobs.” When that happens, the need for immigrants becomes obvious.
New and young businesses account for nearly all of the net job growth in America. And immigrant entrepreneurs are twice as likely to start businesses as native-born Americans and account for almost 30 percent of new entrepreneurs in the nation, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
More than half of America’s billion-dollar startups have an immigrant co-founder. About one-quarter of the engineering and technology companies started in the United States between 2006 and 2012 had at least one key founder who was an immigrant.
That means that job growth in America is fueled by immigrants – not jeopardized by them. And it’s true not just in Silicon Valley but across America in communities large and small.
Davyeon Ross, for example, came to Atchison, Kansas, from Trinidad and Tobago on a basketball scholarship to Benedictine College. He led the nation in field-goal percentage but decided to forego a career in basketball for computer science and an American visa, when Sprint, headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas, invited him to interview for a job, based on his computer science skills. He was quickly hired by Sprint and received his H1-B visa.
When his manager and director at Sprint left to start their own company, they asked him to join them and offered to pay for his H1-B to be transferred. With that support, he used his talents to help build companies and start his own innovative companies — AthletixNation, Digital Sports Ventures, and ShotTracker. Each of his companies has created American jobs — ShotTracker alone employs 26 people — and Davyeon is now on the Board of Directors of Benedictine College.
Immigrants Rejuvenate Town in Iowa
In Columbus Junction, Iowa — with a population of 1,899, located an hour South of Cedar Rapids — Hispanics and multicultural people with Hispanic heritage make up about half of the local population, and of those people about half are immigrants and first-generation. As the Kauffman Foundation learned on a recent visit, longtime Columbus Junction Mayor Dan Wilson, who was born on a farm outside of town, credits waves of immigrants — drawn by the promise of jobs, good schools and welcoming people — with rejuvenating the small town.
The latest wave of immigrants are refugees from the Chin State of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. One of those Chin Burmese refugees, Ngun Za Bik, lived in the Malaysian jungle for 14 years to escape religious persecution. He came to the United States and opened his Grace Chin Grocery Store alongside the Mexican and Hispanic restaurants that line Main Street — and down the street from Dan Wilson’s insurance business.
Davyeon Ross, an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, has started three innovative companies.
As City Community Development Director Mallory Smith says, “In any small town, you’re always looking at: What is the future of this town going to be? And having a large group of people with young children, saying ‘we’d like to live here and open some businesses,’ that’s very reassuring.”
Kauffman Foundation Assists Entrepreneurs
At the Kauffman Foundation, we are working to generate entrepreneurial ecosystems, local cultures of entrepreneurship, to enhance business and job growth all across America. We work with entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders – no matter where they were born – to remove barriers to entrepreneurship.
To reduce barriers, we have created a set of free tools to assist aspiring entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Kauffman FastTrac, now available free digitally, provides aspiring entrepreneurs with business skills and insights, tools and resources, and peer networks for starting and growing successful businesses. And 1 Million Cups, with chapters in 171 cities, offers a program designed to educate, engage, and connect entrepreneurs with their communities.
Last summer the Kauffman Foundation convened in Kansas City the first-ever ESHIP Summit, which brought together more than 400 ecosystem builders from 48 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. From it, a digital playbook emerged of ideas, insights, and solutions.
Growing Jobs Requires Immigrant Contributions
To grow more jobs, policymakers in America will need to reap the economic benefits of immigrant entrepreneurship and should consider a number of initiatives. Federal officials could, for instance, create a startup visa so that immigrants with entrepreneurial dreams can pursue them here. State and local governments and philanthropists can work with universities to create Entrepreneur in Residence programs to attract and retain international entrepreneurial talent.
Those who dare to pursue the American Dream are assets to our nation and can help ensure that America continues to lead the world as the Melting Pot of ideas and innovation. And it’s vital that we continue to attract those people because other countries are offering greater competition.
As Davyeon Ross says, “Other countries are also welcoming people and creating an environment to foster entrepreneurship. … If we don’t create environments that are conducive to entrepreneurs, they will go elsewhere. … It’s got to be deliberate.”
About the Author
Larry Jacob is vice president of public affairs at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City. He wrote this for GV Wire.