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Louisiana: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Pelican State

In Louisiana, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation industries and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute to Louisiana’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 14,726 new immigrant business owners in Louisiana, and in 2010, 8.2 percent of all business owners in Louisiana were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had total net business income of $691 million, which is 6.7 percent of all net business income in the state.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Louisiana’s innovation industries, which in turn helps lead American innovation and creates jobs.

  • Immigrants contribute to Louisiana’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the state’s research universities. In 2009, almost 60 percent of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and almost 73 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Louisiana were not born in the U.S.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 1,329 H-1B high-skilled visa labor certification applications in Louisiana, with an average annual wage of $60,916, which is higher than Louisiana’s median household income of $44,086 or per capita income of $23,853.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 3,800 new jobs in Louisiana by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $1.7 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $1.5 billion. The following are examples of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner metropolitan area had 566 H-1B requests in 2010-2011, with 47.3 percent of visa-holders working in STEM occupations. Major employers include Tulane University, Comtec Consultants Inc., and the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.
    • The Baton Rouge metropolitan area had 512 H-1B requests in 2010-2011, with 51 percent of visa-holders working in STEM occupations. Major employers include East Baton Rouge Parish School System, and the Louisiana State University and A&M College.
  • Innovative immigrants contribute to the success of many large companies. For example, immigrants are found in leadership roles of New Orleans-based Pan American Life Insurance Group, which serves customers throughout the Americas.
    • José S. Suquet, originally from Cuba, currently serves as chairman of the board, president and CEO of the company, while Carlos F. Mickan, from Colombia, is executive vice president and chief financial officer.
    • In 2012, the company ranked at number 15 on the Hispanic Business 500 list, had revenue of $560 million, and employed almost 1,400 people.

While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.

  • Immigrants not only contribute to large innovative companies, but to small business formation in local communities. In towns across Louisiana, immigrant family-owned small businesses contribute to the vitality of their local communities. Although initially aimed at other immigrant customers, many businesses quickly see an expansion of their clientele to include a diverse array of immigrant and native-born customers alike.
  • According to Darlene Kattan, executive director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana, “There’s been an explosion of new Latino and Hispanic businesses. A lot of the businesses are mom-and-pop shops. But more and more of them are professional businesses…growing really quickly.”
    • Some of the strongest business growth has been on the West Bank of New Orleans and in Kenner, according to Kattan. As she stated, “I see growth especially in the number of grocery stores and restaurants because that is a very visceral connection for people. But it keeps on building on itself after that.”
  • New Orleans, as the state’s largest metropolitan area and a historic hub of shipping, commerce, and tourism, contains many examples of immigrant business activity.
    • Williams Boulevard, near the New Orleans airport in Kenner, has become locally known as an international corridor of Hispanic and Asian businesses. Here, merchants from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cuba, and other Latin American countries, have opened and expanded stores, markets, and restaurants.
    • According to the Migration Policy Institute, Louisiana attracted refugees from Vietnam beginning in the mid-1970s. Over the last quarter century, many Vietnamese have opened small businesses, “from restaurants and small grocery stores to commercial fishing operations.”
    • Two areas of New Orleans are known for their Vietnamese businesses. The neighborhood around Alcee Fortier Boulevard and Chef Menteur Highway east of the city is known in particular for its Saturday Vietnamese Farmers’ Market. Another community is found in the West Bank portion of the metro area, at Behrman Highway and Carol Sue Drive in Terrytown.
  • After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, immigrants and immigrant business owners were a part of the rebuilding effort in many Louisiana communities, including a Vietnamese community in New Orleans.
    • In the Vietnamese immigrant community in east New Orleans, around Alcee Fortier Boulevard and Chef Menteur Highway, neighbors and business owners were quick to rebuild their homes and reopen their businesses.
    • Rev. Van Nguyen, pastor of the community’s Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church, estimated that 45 of the approximately 50 Vietnamese-owned businesses in the neighborhood were back up and running by the spring of 2006. Two nearby commercial strip malls were examples of the neighborhood’s quick resurgence, including beauty salons, grocery stores, video rental shops, eateries, and at least one pharmacy.

In Louisiana, local leaders have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • In May 2013, the New Orleans City Council passed a resolution directing Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman to draft a new immigrant detention policy. In particular, the City Council asked that the Sheriff stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants for federal officials.
    • Subsequently, in August 2013, the Orleans Parish Sheriff agreed to reject ICE detention requests unless they are specifically for people who have committed serious crimes.
    • New Orleans provides an example of local leaders and local law enforcement officials “declining to participate in aspects of federal immigration enforcement in the interest of strengthening relations with immigrant populations and creating safer communities” in an effort for community building within their own municipalities.

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Published On: Thu, Jul 25, 2013 | Download File