Immigrant Entrepreneurs in New York City
by Rafael Sabando
New York City has always been considered a global city for its touristic appeal, large number of immigrant residents, cultural diversity, and great place for foreign venture capitalists to invest. In the article “The Cultural Role of World Cities”, Hannerz studies the urban life in cities globalized. He explains that, for a city to be considered global, there are certain groups of people that have to be present in the city’s cultural production/consumption exchange activities. One of these four groups is the transnational corporate elites, a type of entrepreneur or highly skilled person who comes to the global city to develop a business or work in an already established form of enterprise (313). Yet, he overlooks a very important class, a character that plays an important role in the growth of the global city’s economy, the immigrant entrepreneur. He is a mixture between third world immigrant and transnational business class, a type of investor that without major capital, takes the risk to initiate his own business and create new jobs in the global city. In the last decade, New York City has gone through a lot of changes, after the economy debacle of 2008, a lot of businesses had to either close down or declare bankruptcy. This situation makes it very challenging for any type of business to survive, particularly for those that have to rise above all the adversities that comes with been an immigrant in a global city. Despite this, New York City is leading the statistics on the number of businesses created by immigrants in the country; in fact, a great share of the city’s economic growth has been adjudicated to the Immigrant entrepreneur class.
In a study based on a five year sample of data from 2005 to 2009 published by the Fiscal Policy Institute, we find out that, in New York City of the 69,000 business 48% are owned by people who were born outside the country. Specifically, in small businesses, which include self-employed people with incorporated businesses such as, dry cleaning, taxi service, groceries stores, and child day care, the share owned by immigrants exceeds 75%. In high-skilled professions, like computer systems, design, architecture and engineering, 40% of these businesses are owned by foreign born individuals. In the list of the countries where natives make up for the largest share of immigrant business owners, we include China, with about 9 percent of the total, followed by the Dominican Republic, Korea, India, Italy, Greece, Colombia, countries of the former Soviet Union, Israel and the Palestinian territories and Jamaica. Another 55 percent of foreign born owners come from other counties (Wall).
Although very often immigrant entrepreneurs have to deal with bigger challenges than their American born peers, such as hesitation by banks to lend money due to non-existing credit and no collateral, immigrant entrepreneurs have found the way to rise over these issues and excel in their chosen field. A report made by The Partnership for a New American Economy, titled “Open for business: How Immigrants Are Driving Business Creation in the United States,” indicates that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start new businesses compared to people born in this country, despite the fact that they only represent 12.9 percent of the population (Moore).
Sebastian Delmont is one of many examples of immigrant entrepreneurs who came to America and succeeded in creating a business. Ever since he was a kid growing up in Venezuela, he wanted to start his own company. In 1998, he founded Loquesea.com, a news website, with three partners. The company took off quickly, expanding across Latin America, and eventually moved its headquarters to New York City. It was clear that he needed to be in New York if he wanted to grow his business, so he got a visa to transfer to the United States as an employee of his own company. After Loquesea, he knew he wanted to stay in the U.S. and start another business. In 2005, he co-founded StreetEasy, a New York City-based real estate website. Although he can easily celebrate StreetEasy’s success now, getting to where he is now was not without its obstacles. Due to current immigration laws, the business could have been the story of unrealized entrepreneurship and productivity. Over the length of eight years, this was made nearly impossible. Because there is no visa specifically for entrepreneurs, his work and family life were in a constant state of instability as he went through one temporary visa after another. In 2010, after tens of thousands of dollars in legal and filing fees, he finally received a green card. Today, StreetEasy is a profitable and expanding company that has created direct jobs for more than 30 people and helped hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers navigate the real estate market (Delmont).
The managerial and entrepreneurial class is indeed a strong part of a world city economy, especially in New York City, where immigrants constitute just over a third part of the population, and have initiated almost half of the city’s small businesses, despite of the many obstacles they have encountered in their way. In conclusion, after revising recent statistics and real stories, we can agree that New York continues to be a city where many immigrants can successfully turn the American dream into reality.
Delmont, Sebastian. “Let Immigrants Spark Growth”. New York Daily News. August 29, 2012.
WEB. December 9, 2012.
Hannerz, Ulf. “The Cultural Role of World Cities”. The Global City Reader. Neil Brenner and
Koger ei led. London, NY. Routledge. 2006. 313-318.
Moore, Tina. “Immigrants Driving Biz in City: Report”. New York Daily News. August 15, 2012.
WEB. November 13, 2012.
Wall, Patrick. “Immigrants Play Key Role as Entrepreneurs in City” The New York Times.
October 5, 2011. WEB. November 13, 2012.