Study shows immigrant-owned small businesses boosting economy

June 22, 2012

Nearly one in six small business owners in the United States these days are immigrants. That’s according to a new study that shows small businesses owned by immigrants are impacting communities and the economy now more than ever.  From Phoenix, Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez reports.

Masir FamilySamir Mazir and his sister Jamale Mazir own Byblos, a Mediterranian restaurant in Tempe. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

Aurelio LopezAurelio Lopez, left, owns Abraxa’s Landscaping. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)

NADINE ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Aurelio Lopez and two other men are blowing and sweeping the leaves from around a pool deck in this north Phoenix home. Lopez is the owner of Abraxa’s Landscaping -- a business he started in 2006.  He came to Arizona from Mexico -- legally -- nearly 15 years ago, and his first job was working for a landscaping business. He says he enjoyed the work so much that one day he decided to start his own company. He has about half a dozen employees and hires people from his church and community.

AURELIO LOPEZ: La misma necesidad de crecer de superarnos y de apoyar a las personas detrás de nosotros no hizo movernos hacia un escalon mas.

[TRANSLATION: It was sheer necessity to grow and better ourselves, and to support other people forced us to go to the next step.]

 ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Lopez says it was the desire to grow and better himself, and to give work to other people, that pushed him to own his own business. After several months of research and getting the materials he needed, he registered his company and is now an officially licensed landscaping business.

LOPEZ: Si me dio, mas que miedo un poco de incertidumbre, yo crea que eso mismo nos motiva a seguir adelante.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Lopez says he was afraid and more so uncertain about starting the business, but he adds, that’s probably what motivates anyone to move ahead. It turns out immigrants may be more motivated than many others in this regard.

DAVID DYSSEGAARD KALLICK: Among Latinos you see something similar to what happens in the general population which is immigrants are somewhat more likely to be business owners thaN U.S. born, but it may be a little more so.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: David Dyssegaard Kallick is the director of the Immigration Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute -- or FPI in Washington D.C.
He analyzed data from the 2010 U.S. Census and found that immigrants currently make up 18 percent of the small business owners nationwide – that’s a higher rate than their own share of the population, 13 percent. Also in his report-- among Latinos, Mexicans own more businesses.  And interestingly, foreign-born Latinos overall own a greater number of businesses -- as much as two and even three times more --- than U.S.-born Latinos. 

SAMIR MAZIR: When I came to this country I didn’t have no white hair, now I don’t have hair at all. Hahahah…this is a tough business.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Samir Mazir and his sister Jamale, own Byblos, a Mediterranian restaurant in Tempe, Arizona. They’re an example of another finding in this report. Among Dyssegaard Kallick’s findings, the highest rates of immigrant small business ownership goes to people from Asia, Southern Europe, and the middle east. Byblos has been around for nearly 30 years and is nestled between a convenient store and a clinic -- just one mile south of the Arizona State University Campus. Mazir says opening a restaurant in America was a dream he was determined to make come true.

MAZIRA When we opened the restaurant, opened it for the students mostly, because they know our food, because they were Arabic. But customers now are Americans and they love the food. I have some customers that’ve been with me for 28 years.

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: The findings fly in the face of some assumptions about immigrants: that they take jobs, or are a drain on the economy. Dyssegaard Kallick says it’s quite the opposite.

DYSSEGARRD KALLICK: Study after study shows that, in fact, immigrant are fitting in and that very few U.S. workers are displaced when immigrants come. Part of the reason is immigrants are not just coming in as workers. They’re also coming and buying stuff ... they’re business owners who are starting businesses and putting people to work.  

ARROYO RODRIGUEZ: Putting lots of people to work. The report says 4.7 million people work for immigrant-owned small businesses nationwide.