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Why Are Immigrants So Successful as Entrepreneurs While Fewer & Fewer Americans Even Try?

by: Geoff Ficke

Why Are Immigrants So Successful as Entrepreneurs While Fewer & Fewer Americans Even Try? 

This week I had a Speaking Engagement scheduled in Jackson, TN. Upon arrival I settled into my hotel and it being early evening I asked the front desk attendant what restaurants he would recommend for dinner? He mentioned a brand new Chinese place within walking distance of the hotel. I decided to give it a shot. 

The meal I ordered was fairly standard Chinese fare. It was well-prepared, promptly and well served and a good value. The dining experience was acceptable in every way. The cultural experience, however, was eye opening. 

I had engaged my server throughout the meal in light banter. He was a young Chinese man, maybe mid-20’s, his English was barely passable, but he was so energetic and helpful that I wanted to know more about him, how he got to the middle of Tennessee and the story of the new restaurant. He was more than happy, even proud to share his story. 

There were four employees working in the new enterprise. All were young Chinese males and all were related. Their dream was always to come to America and open a Chinese restaurant in a town without much in the way of Oriental food options. They had used the internet to meticulously research small and mid-sized markets where rents would be cheaper, locations visible and busy, and they would possibly find an empty space that still contained some restaurant equipment. They found such a spot in Jackson, a town of about 70,000 people in the middle of Tennessee.

I further queried the young waiter as to why they chose the restaurant business. He replied that many members of his family and others from their hometown had left China to start and bootstrap restaurants in America, Europe and South America. All had worked for some time to squirrel away enough money to pay for transit out of China and have a bit left to start small and build their dream business. The restaurant business is simply the easiest path to economic betterment that is within reasonable reach for many Chinese immigrants. 

The work effort, and obvious diligence that these young first generation immigrants displayed was humbling for me to watch. They had left home, their families and their culture to venture half way around the world and take a gigantic risk on starting a new business opportunity. They had committed themselves totally; every cent they possessed was plowed into the restaurant. Just the language hurdle they faced was daunting, but somehow, they had doggedly gotten the necessary permits, licenses, leases and food service connections organized to open their store. 

This causal experience got me to thinking about other businesses I frequented, and just how many are immigrant owned. My favorite non-chain Mexican restaurants are all owned by Mexican immigrants. I once lived in California. The dominant west coast bakery chain was Winchell’s. Winchell’s once operated several hundred shops. They were put out of business by hundreds of Cambodian owned, independent doughnut stores. The green grocers I frequent in most big cities are typically Korean owned. Vietnamese are prolific liquor store owners.

Pakistani’s dominate in the ownership of convenience stores. Indians overwhelmingly populate the ranks of roadside franchise motel operators, including the one I was using in Jackson.  

All of these immigrant groups arrive here with little money, sparse language skills, and varying degrees of education that are not usually applicable in this country. Somehow they find a way to grab a toehold and through drive, determination and sheer hard work they prove that the American Dream is still alive, at least for those willing to get into the game. 

Virtually of these immigrant entrepreneurs come from countries where there is no social safety net. They must work hard to simply survive. They see an America that too many Native Americans do not see. They see a land where anything is possible, just as it always has been. 

For many years I have owned a Company that provides Marketing Consulting Services for Consumer Product Inventors, Entrepreneurs and small and micro-businesses. We work internationally. Currently we are working in Switzerland, Dubai, Syria, Jordan and London, as well as with American clients. Almost 60% of the client base we have Consulted for over the last 10 years is foreign or immigrant. We notice that fewer and fewer Americans even attempt to improve their lives by taking advantage of the opportunities that our unique capitalist system has traditionally offered: the pursuit of the American Dream. 

For many Americans the economic news is depressing. Jobs are scarce we are constantly told. The middle class is shrinking. There are income disparities. The future is bleak. 

Fortunately the millions of immigrants that struggle to get to this incredible country do not pay attention to the news. If they do they are not being discouraged. They are coming in droves to prosper as they can nowhere else on earth. We are a better country because of their courage and belief in our system. It is unfortunate that more Americans do not share their uplifting outlook.