Made in Lowell

Ricky Orng from F.O.B. Apparel

Ricky Orng from F.O.B. Apparel

An Iraqi restaurant, a Brazilian insurance agency, a Cambodian clothing company, an Indian software company, an African salon, a Portuguese market.

Lowell’s got them all . . . and more.

Immigrants built this city. Literally. The Irish came to dig the canals; the French Canadians came to work in the mills, building the greatest textile industry in the United States.

MadeinLowell 014“But in the last several years, immigrants have been not only employees, but employers,” Mayor Patrick Murphy remarked at Thursday morning’s “Made in Lowell” event at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center. “You see the contributions of immigrants throughout this city – it brings people to the city for that reason and we are lucky here in the city to have attracted that talent.”

Take a ride around the city: the Portuguese-owned businesses in Back Central, Cambodians in the Lower Highlands, Latinos in the Acre, Africans and Colombians in Centralville.

Manny Silva of Silva's Market displays his Portuguese goodies.

Manny Silva of Silva’s Market displays his Portuguese goodies.

City Manager Bernie Lynch said while the city works to bring large companies like Motorola and PlumChoice to the city, they work equally as hard to attract and support small businesses “many of which have been developed by immigrants.

“They are the backbone, they are the core of the economic prosperity of the city,” Lynch added, telling business owners in attendance “the city of Lowell will always stand ready to assist you and any business that takes the risk to succeed.”

In Massachusetts, 15 percent of the population (1 million of 6.5 million) are foreign-born. The commonwealth ranks 45th in area, but 7th in immigrant population, explained keynote speaker Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition

Erwin said 50 percent of the state’s PhDs are foreign-born, 25 percent of our bio-tech firms and 29 percent of engineering firms were started by immigrants.

Many neighborhood businesses, like dry cleaners, gas stations, taxi services and grocery stores are owned by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

In 2011, immigrant-owned businesses in Boston boasted $4 billion in sales and employed more than 18,000 people, but immigrant entrepreneurs still face many challenges.

Erwin said the New American Immigration Institute, a think tank dedicated to promoting the integration of immigrants into the civic, economic and social life of America, which recently celebrated its first anniversary, has held a series of roundtable discussions with immigrant business owners in Cambridge.

What they have learned is these entrepreneurs need better access to government contracts and capital, mufti-lingual technical assistance, financial education and advocacy.

Many highly skilled, college educated immigrants find when they come to the United States they have difficulty becoming licensed in their field due to the language and cultural barriers; others who wish to start businesses discover their foreign credit history is not valid here.

In 2009, 41,000 college-educated immigrants in Massachusetts were unemployed or under-employed, working survival jobs as a taxi driver or dishwasher.

Erwin said MIRA is working to assist many of these high-skilled immigrants, who turn to entrepreneurism to better their lot in their new homeland.

“All immigrants are entrepreneurs,” she said, adding the skills required to leave their native land and start over somewhere new are the same required to take a risk on starting a business. “They are risk takers, accustomed to delayed gratification.”

Robert Nelson, District Director of the Small Business Association’s Massachusetts District Office said things are looking up for small businesses.

In the 2012 fiscal year, the SBA saw its second largest loan volume ever, second only to the year before. Nationwide, the SBA granted $30 billion in loans to 54,000 small businesses; in Massachusetts, 2,000 small businesses benefited from $700 million in loans from 130 different lenders.

Nelson noted the importance of the diversity of Lowell’s business community.

“Diversity is essential to economic vitality for a prosperous future for everyone,” he said. “There is a great fabric up here in the city of Lowell. It is something to be recognized and applauded.”

Nelson then recognized Brian Chapman, President and owner of Mill City Environmental, who was awarded the SBA’s Minority Small Business Person of the Year award for Massachusetts and New England.

Brian Chapman of Mill City Environmental

Brian Chapman of Mill City Environmental

Chapman, a Lowell native, said he is proud to be in a city that “embraces small businesses, lifts them up and helps them succeed.”

Thursday’s “Made in Lowell” event was the fourth hosted by the city’s Office of Economic Development.

Immigrant-owned businesses showcased at the business expo included:

  • Babylon Restaurant (Iraq)
  • Alpha Insurance Agency (Brazil)
  • FOB Lifestyle and Apparel (Cambodia)
  • Silva’s Mini Market (Portugal)
  • New Century Auto Collision and Service Center (Cambodia)
  • Angela Westen Insurance Agency (Brazil)
  • Bollywood Fashions (India)
  • Gomes Travel and Today’s Insurance (Portugal)
  • Kallidus Technologies, Inc. (India)
  • Unique You Salon (Nigeria)
  • Torpi Travel (Cambodia)
  • Ahy Bar and Restaurant (Dominican Republic)
  • HB Software Solutions (India)
  • Kumon (India)
  • Lowell Sewing Inc. (Cambodia)

For the program from the “Made in Lowell” event, including more information about the businesses above, click here: MadeinLowell

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