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Immigrant Entrepreneurs Make Our Economy Stronger; Create Good American Jobs

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Immigrant Entrepreneurs Make Our Economy Stronger; Create Good American Jobs

By Karen Mills, Former SBA Administrator
Published: June 28, 2013 Updated: June 28, 2013

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 Where others saw an outdated, old factory, he saw an opportunity and a burgeoning business plan.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.

About the Author:

Karen Mills

Former SBA Administrator

Karen Gordon Mills is the Former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA helps both Main Street and high-growth small businesses get access to capital, counseling, federal contracts, disaster assistance and more.


This has been an absolute pleasure of an article to read. First, I was unaware of Chobani's history and their quick rise to huge success. You bring up excellent points on how immigrants, from day one technically, have been an integral part of our foundation as a country and more recently, as you reveal, to businesses and growth. I am in agreement where you opine that we need an immigration system that works for the 21st century and also attracts the brightest and talented worldwide. It is interesting that the three pillars you mention the immigration reform is now so prevalent in the news today - as the article, unfortunately for me, I am reading well after its conception. I am hopeful that this type of immigration can actually be both derived and adjudicated as that we can all flourish. Thank you again for the article. Well written and well thought out.
The fair is always our top concern, the United States always diverse businesses. The United States is a superpower should be no surprise that so many people risked their lives to make a living here, whether work whatsoever has also helped the United States and diversification
I wonder if that Turkish man could have gotten that loan if he had NOT been an immigrant.
Very correctly indicated above that America is building itself from the help of immigrants who are moving every year to U.S & starting a business there, which is not only helping U.S in funding raising part but overall helping others to get a job even after tough time. Hence backdated & outdated immigrant bill should be to do away with, new laws should come in force to strengthen them further to take on new challenges.
Immigrants bring about economic development?
The various government programs and tools to support diversity in small businesses definitely helps!
Yes, America is the greatest country in the world. That is why millions of people of risked their lives to come to this land of opportunity where anyone can succeed with hard work.
Nice article and I love Chobani Yogurt, but something needs to be done about the current status of the 'Woman Owned Small Business' program. Our Story: My wife, an Iraqi citizen helped the US win the war in Iraq as a translator and interpreter for eight years (2003-2011). She worked directly with the US Military and Department of State and helped the American mission in Iraq be the success that it was. You can say that she helped save lives, American lives. For this she was granted a Special Immigration Visa and is now a permanent legal resident in the US but not yet a citizen. And, in the true spirit of this article she started a new business, a global translation and interpretation company. She is a woman, and meets all of the standards set by the WOSB program, except one thing, she is not yet a citizen. To me this is just not acceptable, that a person such as her, dedicate to the ideals of America, who risked her life for those ideals, can not participate in a program because it in meant only for Americans. Thanks for the article, it certainly gives us encouragement, but at the same time many of SBA's programs fall short of your own stated goals (Read About Author and note the statement about Federal Contracts) to help American Small Businesses. This should be fixed at the same time we are fixing the immigration laws.    Please note that Community members may not include personally identifiable information, such as phone numbers in comments. Please review our Community Best Practices for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
An interesting new worldwide book/ebook that helps explain the role, struggles, and contributions of immigrants and minorities is "What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It paints a revealing picture of America for those who will benefit from a better understanding. Endorsed by ambassadors, educators, and editors, it also informs those who want to learn more about the last remaining superpower and how we compare to other nations on many issues. As the book points out, immigrants and minorities are a major force in America. Immigrants and the children they bear account for 60 percent of our nation’s population growth and own 11 percent of US businesses and are 60 percent more likely to start a new business than native-born Americans. They represent 17 percent of all new business owners (in some states more than 30 percent). Foreign-born business owners generate nearly one-quarter of all business income in California and nearly one-fifth in New York, Florida, and New Jersey. In fact, forty percent of Fortune 500 companies were started by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant, creating 10 million jobs and seven out of ten top brands in our country. They come to improve their lives and create a foundation of success for their children to build upon, as did the author’s grandparents when they landed at Ellis Island in 1899 after losing 2 children to disease on a cramped cattle car-like sailing from Europe to the Land of Opportunity. Many bring skills and a willingness to work hard to make their dreams a reality, something our founders did four hundred years ago. In describing America, chapter after chapter chronicles “foreigners” who became successful in the US and contributed to our society. However, most struggle in their efforts and need guidance in Anytown, USA. Perhaps intelligent immigration reform, White House/Congress and business/labor cooperation, concerned citizens and books like this can extend a helping hand, the same unwavering hand that has been the anchor and lighthouse of American values for four hundred years. Here’s a closing quote from the book’s Intro: “With all of our cultural differences though, you’ll be surprised to learn how much…we as human beings have in common on this little third rock from the sun. After all, the song played at our Disneyland parks around the world is ‘It’s A Small World After All.’ Peace.”      This comment was edited to remove a link. Please review our Community Best Practices ( for more information about how best to participate in our online discussions. Thank you.
I agree. Diversity does make us stronger. Regardless of what country we come from, if you have the desire, then chase your dreams. Sometimes all it takes if a fresh perspective to see an opportunity many people have overlooked. We can learn from each other and that will make us all stronger.


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