Immigrant businesses thrive in New York City

A Feb. 17, 2012 landmark report by the Fund for Public Advocacy and ACCION USA released a landmark report on how immigrant-owned businesses are making ends meet in New York City, and the ways City government can help them grow and add jobs. The survey of 625 immigrant-owned firms across the five boroughs found a staggering 92 percent of owners started and sustain their businesses without outside help with financing, counseling, marketing or applying for licenses and permits.

“Nearly four in five business owners voiced a desire for help in these areas; the most often reason cited for not seeking help was a lack of knowledge about the programs available,” the report states.

The Fund for Public Advocacy — a non-profit entity within the office of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, has announced a series of pilot projects to reach immigrant business owners with technical help and financial services, with the goal of transforming them into official NYC policies.

“The strength of immigrant communities is their entrepreneurship and self-reliance, but these businesses still need City help to grow and add jobs,” said Reshma Saujani, executive director of the Fund for Public Advocacy.

“We did something government seldom does—we walked through the front door of immigrant-owned businesses and asked them what they needed. What we heard made clear the need to bring City services door to door, instead of waiting for these owners to come to us,” Saujani added.

Mr DeBlasio says immigrant businesses are an economic blind spot for New York City.

“We set out to solve the data deficit so we can start tailoring City programs to also suit the specific needs of immigrant entrepreneurs,” he said, adding:

“This is one of the most dynamic and resilient parts of our economy. If they actually received help from the City commensurate with their weight in the economy, they could add thousands more jobs right in their own neighborhoods.”

After serving New York City immigrant entrepreneurs for 20 years, ACCION chief executive, Paul Quintero, says, “We believe this study underscores three important public policy lessons:

“First, that there is a huge need for creating awareness about micro-lenders and the numerous government support services that are available for entrepreneurs.

“Second, that access to capital remains one of the three highest priorities for immigrant entrepreneurs.

“And third, that operational collaboration between the public and non-profit sectors can achieve greater outcomes than individual efforts.”

The survey, developed in consultation with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, identified a significant disconnect between City-sponsored programs and immigrant businesses in need of assistance. It found:

~ 92% of the businesses surveyed reported not receiving services to start, sustain, or grow;

~ 51% of businesses that did not receive services were unaware help programs existed;

~ Of those few businesses who received services, 69% reported them as helpful:

~ 79% of business owners wanted support services including financial assistance (33%), legal guidance (25%), and marketing (23%);

~ 87% of immigrant businesses did not have websites, compared to 51% of small businesses nationally.

The report urges City agencies to dispense existing business services such as credit counseling, marketing support and help navigating the permitting process through community-based non-profits and organizations that can interact with immigrant entrepreneurs at their place of business and in their own languages.

In order to help support these small businesses and create jobs, the Fund for Public Advocacy will launch a series of pilot programs which, if successful, will give the public advocate a green light to press for the City to adopt them as official policy.

The Fund will:

~ Develop a program with micro-lenders to provide 200 businesses with credit counseling, debt management, legal assistance and budgeting help.

~ Partner with tech firms to expand online marketing and social media presence for 200 immigrant small businesses.

~ Create and distribute a tool-kit of existing support programs directly to 5,000 immigrant-owned businesses.

~ Host a five-borough listening tour with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Center for a New Urban Future, and other local community-based organizations to help City programs maximize job creation at immigrant firms.

“Immigrant small business owners move neighborhood economies across the city,” said. Yet, opening and running a small business is difficult.”

Coates added:

“Many do not access NYC services or communicate well with the city for a variety of reasons including lack of technological savvy, language, time constraints, and other cultural barriers.

“Dealing with and accessing city services should not be an impediment to running a small business.”

To address this issue, Coates said it’s “important tom it is important for NYC to partner with community based organizations who have relationships with owners and have built the trust of the community, to facilitate these businesses’ connection to City support services.

“Immigrant entrepreneurs look for the best path to grow their businesses, and the city should make it clear for them,”

Read the full report at: advocate.nyc.gov/immigrant-business.

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