Stacy Martin is the Vice President for Mission Advancement at LIRS.
A single person can captivate a nation, as “Joe the Plumber” did in 2008. His pronouncements fed a media frenzy that gave him astonishing celebrity firepower. Joe focused the presidential election on small businesses – firms that are no less vital to healthy communities today.
In a fair world, Joe the Plumber would share the spotlight with Albert the Entrepreneur.
Here, I’m speaking of Albert Yousif, one of many immigrants who are champions of small business growth. Yousif, who arrived in the United States in 1993 as a refugee from Iraq, spoke today at an event to promote the report “Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Creating Jobs and Strengthening the Economy.”
Albert Yousif may not yet be a household name. Yet, he was among several immigrant entrepreneurs to share his reflections at the event, which was held by the US Chamber of Commerce and the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Council (IPC). The entrepreneurs’ commentary testified to the regenerative power that immigrants can bring to American businesses and communities.
Yousif, who came to the United States with the help of the Archdiocese of Detroit, went from an employee working 18-20 hour days to owning his own business, A2Z Facility Maintenance Inc. He has turned that success into opportunities for fellow immigrants, employing many while boosting their English and professional skills.
“I had an American mentor who helped me,” Yousif told me yesterday in an informal LIRS meeting. “I said to myself, ‘Why can’t I do that for my own people?'”
Yousif shared a pivotal moment in his transformation from overworked refugee to ambitious entrepreneur.
“I was cleaning an office and saw that the business owner had a picture of his family on his desk,” Yousif said. “I thought to myself, ‘That’s my target.'”
Yousif is not alone in his drive to sit at the owner’s desk, with all it symbolizes.
“Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Creating Jobs and Strengthening the Economy” cites Census data to support the idea that immigrants “are more likely than native workers to choose self-employment and starting their own businesses.”
“Of naturalized citizens, 5.1% were employed in their own incorporated businesses, compared with only 3.7% of employed native-born citizens who were employed in their own incorporated businesses,” says the report.
Moreover, immigrants started 25% of venture-backed US public companies launched between 1990 and 2005, according to a study cited by the report, which was authored by the Immigrant Learning Center (ILC) Public Education Institute.
And as one example of how such hard work can boost an entire state, a commission recently found that immigrants accounted for 57 percent of a 26 percent leap in Maryland’s gross state product.
When will Albert the Entrepreneur become just as much of a household name as Joe the Plumber?
Not, one hopes, when we are gripped by the kind of media frenzy that elevated Joe from everyman to oracle. Instead, let’s allow our common sense and the economic data to tell us what immigrant entrepreneurs can do for America’s communities — and let’s spread the word.