NYC spurs small business

Updated: 2014-08-06 07:50

By AMY HE in New York(China Daily USA)

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NYC spurs small business

Local government officials and small business owners in New York discuss the importance of immigrant-owned small businesses. From left: Daniel Dromm, City Council Member; Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner at Small Business Services; workers from the Arepa Lady Restaurant in Queens; Julissa Ferreras, City Council Member; Nisha Agarwal, commission at the Mayor's Office of Immigrant Affairs. [Amy He / China Daily]

One out of three people in New York City are immigrants and they generate $215 billion in the local economy every year, but more can be done to help small businesses thrive in the city, government officials said.

Small businesses in New York City propel job growth and the city's economy, and half the small business owners in the city are foreign-born, according to Maria Torres-Springer, commissioner of the city's Small Business Services.

The Chinese community in particular accounts for the largest number of immigrant small business owners, owning more than 6,500 of the city's small businesses, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

But they, like other of New York City's ethnic groups, face problems in entrepreneurship that are unique to the immigrant population, said Torres-Springer.

"We realize that while the needs of immigrant entrepreneurs' are in some ways the same as those of any entrepreneur, there are specific challenges that they face, whether it's language, cultural barriers, mistrust of government or educational gaps," she said.

"Immigrant entrepreneurship, for so many, is the first chance at economic self-determination and a real path to the middle class," she added. "That's why, with this administration, we're working closely with members of the City Council, looking at ways to fundamentally change the way government works with the immigrant community."

Started in May, the Immigrant Business Initiative works with community organizations to "find and execute solutions to help immigrant-owned businesses start, operate and grow", the city government said.

Resource centers around the city help with problems small business owners face, and Torres-Springer said there is an emphasis on cultural competency in training the staff.

She said the solution centers had translation services and staff who could speak the languages the Asian communities speak.

"We're offering our business courses in Chinese and looking to expand that to others," she said, adding that they would do the same with every program they offered.

"We really ask ourselves the question, 'Is this addressing the needs of small businesses and in particular, is this structured so that the Asian business owners, or immigrant business owners in general, know about it?'" she explained.

There are more than 67,000 small businesses in New York City. Chinese immigrants account for the largest number of immigrant small business owners, with more than 6,500 (or 9 percent), according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

For privacy reasons, small business owners seeking the city's business services are not required to put down their ethnicity, so it's not possible to tell what the ethnic breakdown of service use is, according to a spokesperson from the Small Business Services office.

Shanghai Asian Manor restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown is one of the Chinese-owned small businesses that took advantage of the city's business planning services, utilizing its business acceleration program, which helps businesses get through the start-up process much faster than normal, said deputy commissioner Robinson Hernandez.

"They were one of our first clients, and they're in the process of opening another location in Flushing. The owner was so pleased with our services that she came back to us," he said.