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Nebraska: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Cornhusker State

In Nebraska, 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 to Nebraska’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 3,905 new immigrant business owners in Nebraska, and in 2010, 3.9 percent of all business owners in Nebraska were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had a total net business income of $126 million, which is 2.7 percent of all net business income in the state.
  • Nebraska is home to many successful companies with at least one founder who was an immigrant or child of an immigrant, or companies whose success relies on immigration like ConAgra. Many brands now sold by ConAgra, which employs more than 26,000 people and has more than $13 billion in revenue, were brands that started as immigrant founded businesses.

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

  • Immigrants contribute to Nebraska’s economic growth and competitiveness by earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields from the state’s research universities. In 2009, 11.5 percent of STEM graduates from the state’s research-intensive universities were foreign-born, and 77.4 percent of graduates earning PhDs in engineering in Nebraska were not born in the U.S.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 982 H-1B labor certification applications in Nebraska, with an average annual wage of $60,671, which is more than both Nebraska’s median household income of $51,381 and its per capita income of $26,523.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 1,800 new jobs in Nebraska by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $781 million to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $650 million. The following are examples of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area had 710 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 75.1 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations. Major employers with a need for H-1B high-skilled workers include Prokarma Inc, Creighton University, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

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 Nebraska, 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 Omaha, Marta Sonia Londoño Mejía directed the Midlands Latino Community Development Corporation. Over a two year period, the agency assisted entrepreneurs in launching around 50 new companies including day care centers, auto mechanics, restaurants, bakeries, retail, and tax preparation services. As Mejía stated, “Latinos love to start businesses—it’s cultural.”
    • Also in Omaha, Yesenia Wilson, from Peru, started Machu Picchu imports in 2008 in the city’s popular Old Market shopping area. Her business sells Inca jewelry, ponchos, and other crafts imported from Peru.
    • In Norfolk, Juan Sandoval, from Venezuela, directs the Hispanic Business Center for the Rural Enterprise Assistance Project. He noted there has been a growing trend of Latino-owned businesses opening in places such as Schuyler, Columbus, and South Sioux City.
    • Cousins Arturo and Tomas De La Paz own El Mezcal Mexican restaurant in Norfolk, and Cilantros Mexican Bar and Grill in Omaha. Each restaurant employs around 20 people.

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

  • Across Nebraska and the broader Midwest, local places recognize the importance of immigrant entrepreneurs in their communities. According to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs, “Public and private-sector groups across the region have launched business incubators for immigrant entrepreneurs, sponsored networking opportunities with local employers, and helped skilled immigrants translate their foreign credentials to maximize their economic potential in the United States.”
    • Specifically, the Council states that “the Midwest cannot hope to keep up with other regions or international competitors without a vital entrepreneurial sector…Immigrants, risk takers by nature, are unusually successful entrepreneurs, more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start their own firms.”
    • Although the Midwest has historically found it difficult to attract and retain new talent, the Council suggests that the region needs new entrepreneurial energy. They note that “business incubators in immigrant communities, microloan programs, and other initiatives to make credit available can make a difference.”
  • Nebraska is Home, a project of Nebraska Appleseed and an affiliate of Welcoming America, is a community-led initiative focused on “creating a welcoming atmosphere—community by community—in which immigrants are more likely to integrate into the social fabric of their adopted hometowns.” Nebraska is Home has local chapters in Crete, Grand Island, Lincoln, Omaha, and Schuyler.
    • You’re Welcome in Omaha, a part of Nebraska is Home, is a collaborative effort “to celebrate Omaha as a welcoming and inclusive community of all of its immigrant neighbors.” The initiative is based on the understanding that “immigrants settling in a community have a far better chance of integrating if the others in that community are receptive to including their new neighbors.”
  • In Lincoln, the New Americans Task Force is a “network of public and private organizations and community members dedicated to supporting new Americans” in the community. Approximately 40 agencies participate in the task force, which meets monthly to share information about news, events, and issues related to new Americans.
  • In 2013, the City of Lincoln was designated as a Welcoming City for immigrants, part of Welcoming America’s Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative. This recognition means that the city “seeks to integrate immigrants into the community by creating a welcoming atmosphere that embraces people from all nationalities and backgrounds.”
    • The official proclamation, signed by Lincoln’s mayor and dozens of members of the New Americans Task Force, represents the city’s commitment to “fostering an environment that welcomes people regardless of race, ethnicity or place of origin.”
    • Christa Yoakum, coordinator of Nebraska is Home, said of Lincoln’s designation, “As we continue to build a thriving 21st century economy and city, this commitment to working together to attract and engage immigrants as an important part of our Lincoln community will help create a strong and vibrant future for all of us.”


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Published On: Wed, Oct 16, 2013 | Download File