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Maine: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Pine Tree State

In Maine, 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 and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Maine’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 2,711 new immigrant business owners in Maine, and in 2010, 3.2 percent of all business owners in Maine were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had a total net business income of almost $120 million, which is 3.3 percent of all net business income in the state.
  • Maine is home to many successful companies with at least one founder who was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, including well-known companies such as Fairchild Semiconductor International, which employ nearly s 8,000 people and produces more than $1.5 billion in revenue.

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

  • Immigrants contribute to Maine’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 32.9 percent of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and almost 42 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Maine were not born in the U.S.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 474 H-1B labor certification applications in Maine, with an average annual wage of $68,431, which is higher than both Maine’s median household income of$48,219 and its per capita income of $26,464.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 1,300 new jobs in Maine by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $514 million to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $495 million. The following is an example of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The Portland-South Portland-Biddeford metropolitan area had 282 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 76.1 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations. A major employer with a need for H-1B high-skilled workers is Rite Pros Inc.

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

  • Immigrant entrepreneurs not only contribute to large innovative companies, but to small business formation in local communities. In cities across Maine, 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.
    • “In communities throughout Maine,” said Garrett Martin, executive director of the Maine Center for Economic Policy, immigrants “are opening new businesses, hiring new employees, and making new investments that are contributing to and strengthening local economies.”
    • Claude Rwaganje, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, is the founder of the Community Financial Literacy Board, based in Portland. He noted that many people are unaware of the large impacts immigrant entrepreneurs make in Maine’s small business community.
    • Additionally, Charles Colgan, a professor at the University of Southern Maine, estimates that, in Portland, Maine’s largest city, around half of newly established small retail businesses in the past several years are immigrant-owned.
  • In Portland, immigrant-owned restaurants are a vibrant component to the city’s culinary landscape. Examples include Tandoor Bread, a Middle Eastern bakery, as well as Boda, a Thai restaurant whose chefs, Danai Sriprasert and Nattasak Wongsaichua, were nominated for the prestigious James Beard award in 2012.
  • In Lewiston, Somali refugees have established a variety of small businesses. Hussein Ahmed, for example, came to Lewiston in 2003, and quickly opened a convenience store. As he stated, such “businesses are vital for this community.”
  • In Bangor, Maria and Alejandro Rave, from Colombia, own the popular Thistles Restaurant featuring a variety of international cuisine. The Rave’s are also found volunteering in the community, contributing to charities, and providing jobs. Their restaurant, along with other establishments, contributes to Bangor’s downtown revitalization, helping bring the city “back from economic stagnation.”


In Maine, some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

  • Community Financial Literacy, in Portland, is an organization that teaches the basics of finance to new immigrants and refugees in Maine. One of the organization’s goals is to empower refugee and immigrant communities in Maine with the financial skills to become more productive members of the community.
    • Specifically, the organization offers three free financial literacy courses to immigrants and refugees, including Basic Money Management in America, Saving to Build Wealth, and Microfinance.
  • The City of Portland views immigrants as beneficial to the community. Gregory Mitchell, the city’s economic development director, says, “Our economic development plan recognizes the value of the immigrants community and fosters immigrant entrepreneurship to grow Portland’s economy.”
    • In particular, the city’s economic development plan encourages ways to attract and support entrepreneurs, including minority entrepreneurs, as a “means of diversifying the local economy.”

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Published On: Mon, Jul 15, 2013 | Download File