Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation and Welcoming Initiatives

Posted by on August 13, 2013

The following content was written and provided to Coopera by The Immigration Policy Center.

In Iowa, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation economy, and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Iowa’s economy.
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From 2006 to 2010, there were 4,823 new immigrant business owners in Iowa, and in 2010, 3.1 percent of all business owners in the state were foreign-born.

- In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total business revenue of $215.8 million, which is 2.8 percent of all business income in the state.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Iowa’s innovation economy.
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In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 2,089 H-1B labor certification applications in Iowa, with an average annual wage of $66,422, which is higher than Iowa’s median household income of $50,451 or per capita income of $26,110.

- High-skilled immigrant workers contribute to the success of many Iowa-based companies and institutions with a significant presence in the state, including Aviva USA Corporation, UST Global Inc., NCS Pearson Inc., the University of Iowa, Tejase Technologies Inc. and Rockwell Collins Inc.

- The Des Moines metropolitan area had 767 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 79.9 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.

- The Iowa City metropolitan area had 320 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 59.2 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.

- The Cedar Rapids metropolitan area had 252 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 80.6 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.

- An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 3,200 new jobs in Iowa by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $1.2 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $1 billion.

While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.
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In Marshalltown and similar Iowa communities, immigrants are bringing new life to small towns that might otherwise have begun withering away. Marshalltown’s Chamber of Commerce, in particular, is actively trying to recruit additional members from immigrant-owned businesses.

- In the southeast Iowa town of Ottumwa, Jose Rodas and Elsa Urrutea are examples of new immigrant business owners. Rodas, who originally came to Iowa to work for Cargill, recently opened his own tortilla shop. His tortilleria is one of 25 new Latino-owned businesses in the town. Urrutea, who grew up homeless in El Salvador, now owns her own bakery in Ottumwa.

- In small towns such as Ottumwa, immigrant entrepreneurs have opened small “mom-and-pop” retail establishments, restaurants, auto repair shops, and even pupuserias (which make the Salvadoran corn-dough delicacy). Such business establishments foster local interaction and commerce, helping breathe new life into small towns that might otherwise experience decline.

Some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.
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Welcoming Iowa, a project of the Iowa Immigration Education Coalition, is a “grassroots effort committed to creating a more welcoming atmosphere in Iowa’s communities by promoting mutual respect and cooperation between foreign born and U.S. born residents.”

“The ultimate goal of Welcoming Iowa is to create an atmosphere – community by community – in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their new hometowns.”

- Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration: An initiative to help guide and prepare Iowa communities and businesses as they accommodate immigrant and refugee newcomers living and working in Iowa.

The center provides consultation for community leadership, “conducts research related to issues facing newcomers and communities, develops initiative training programs for business and industry, and educates Iowans concerning the needs, challenges and opportunities of their new immigrant neighbors, co-workers and employees.”

The Center provides programming that “incorporates a strong appreciation for the critical role newcomers play in ensuring the long-term social and economic vitality of Iowa’s businesses and communities.”

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