A new study from the Iowa Center for Immigrant Leadership and Integration has found immigrants and refugees make a significant contribution to the state’s economy. University of Northern Iowa professor Mark Grey heads the Center and directed the study, which covered 17 counties in northeast Iowa. He found 109 businesses in that region were owned by immigrants or refugees, and had annual sales of 13-million dollars in the past year. “You know, we were surprised,” Grey says of the results. “I would say that the ultimate number of businesses that we found in this 17-county area was at least double the number we had anticipated.” He says another surprise was the variety of businesses that have been started by immigrants. Grey says most people can identify grocery stores or restaurants started by immigrants, but he says there were just as many non-store-front businesses that immigrants are running in Iowa that are rarely seen, but that are making an economic impact. Another surprise for researchers was how many immigrant entrepreneurs were running more than one business under the same roof. Grey also found few of the immigrants who are now running businesses in Iowa had previous experience. Researchers asked the immigrant business owners if they’d owned or operated a business in their home countries and the vast majority had not. For most, the business they opened in Iowa was their first business venture. “And that’s another interesting finding for us,” Grey says. The professor believes if the study were expanded beyond the 17-county-area in northeast Iowa to the entire state, the results would be astonishing. Grey says he’s “absolutely convinced” he’d find several thousand businesses owned and operated by immigrants and refugees who now live in the state. Grey says given the findings of the survey, he’s frustrated that economic developers continue to overlook immigrants as potential business owners.
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