Eight years ago, a Turkish immigrant living in upstate New York saw an ad for a shuttered yogurt plant not far from his home. Where others saw an outdated, old factory, he saw an opportunity and a burgeoning business plan. He purchased the facility using a U.S. Small Business Administration-backed loan, hired five of the employees from the original operation and went to work.
Through hard work, perseverance, long days and sleepless nights, he steadily grew the business into one of the world’s most successful yogurt companies.
That company is Chobani and the entrepreneur is Hamdi Ulukaya. Today, Chobani employs nearly 3,000 people and it was able to reach $1 billion in revenue, as Fortune Magazine reported, as quickly as technology companies Google and Facebook.
All across the country today there are immigrants who are starting and building successful businesses that create good American jobs and support their local communities. These are the mom-and-pop shops that form the fabric of our communities and the high-growth startups that will one day revolutionize their industries.
These small business owners possess the same entrepreneurial spirit, drive and determination as the generations who came before them. They remind me of my Grandpa Jack, who came to America from Russia in the early 1900s, and built a successful textile business in the United States.
As President Obama said in a speech earlier this month, “in recent years, one in four of America’s new small business owners were immigrants. One in four high-tech startups in America were founded by immigrants. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by a first- or second-generation American.”
Immigrants over-index in entrepreneurship. According to a study by the Partnership for a New American Economy, immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business in the United States as non-immigrants, and in 2011, immigrants started 28 percent of all new businesses while only accounting for 13 percent of the U.S. population.
These businesses inject vitality and a global vision into our economy. Immigrant-owned businesses are exporting and opening up markets around the globe. New immigrants ensure diversity and new ideas in our society. Approximately 26 percent of all U.S.-based Nobel laureates over the past 50 years were foreign-born. And immigrants are strengthening our communities, fueling job creation and fostering innovation in key industries. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy study, every additional 100 foreign-born workers in STEM fields with advanced degrees from U.S. universities are associated with an additional 262 jobs among American workers.
To build on our nation’s economic momentum and to accelerate job growth, we need an immigration system that works for America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners. We need an immigration system that allows us to better compete in the 21st century global economy.
Comprehensive immigration reform, which passed the Senate yesterday, has three key pillars: smarter enforcement and border security; a path to citizenship for those who work hard and play by the rules; and an updated legal system that allows us to continue to attract and retain the most talented, hardest working men and women from around the world.
Last year, I spoke at a citizenship ceremony aboard the U.S.S. Constitution in Boston. There were people there from countries all over the world coming together to pledge their allegiance to the United States of America. Each had their own story about how they came to the United States, but when I was done speaking, the vast majority wanted to talk to me about one thing: how they can start their own business.
America needs more men and women like that. Our economy needs that energy. Our communities need that stability. And passage by the House of Representatives of a balanced, comprehensive immigration reform bill that reflects the fundamental American belief that we are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants will help make that possible.