Immigrants in Denver more likely to own small businesses than U.S. natives

In the Denver metro area, immigrants are more likely to own small businesses than folks born in the United States.

Not that much more likely, but the data presented in a new national report should at least call into question notions that immigrants influence the economy simply by displacing U.S. born workers.

Last week, the Fiscal Policy Institute, a research organization based in New York, released Immigrant Small Business Owners: A Significant and Growing Part of the Economy, a report on the number and characteristics of immigrant small business owners across the country. The document features some interesting data on the increasing immigrant population in Denver and in Colorado and how these businesses owners have impacted the economy.

In the Denver metro area, the report says, immigrants are 10 percent more likely to own a small business than their U.S.-born counterparts -- a number that matches the national ratio. Specifically, 4.2 percent of the U.S.-born labor force are business owners, while 4.7 percent of the foreign-born labor force own business locally.

Elsewhere in the state, the trend is reversed, with 4.9 percent of U.S. natives owning businesses versus 3.8 percent of the immigrant population of Colorado.

"Immigrants are pulling their weight in the economy, and are just as likely -- and sometimes even more likely -- than U.S.-born [residents] to be business owners," David Dyssegaard Kallick, a senior fellow with the institute, tells Westword. "You see that immigration has grown a lot, and so has immigrant business ownership."

The report also found that there are 13,177 immigrant-owned small businesses in Colorado, based on a 2010 estimate. That makes up about 11 percent of the total number of small businesses in the state. The total earnings of these companies is $684 million a year, according to a five-year average from the American Community Survey.

"People have a hard time understanding how immigrants can come into the economy without displacing native...workers," says Kathy White, deputy project director at Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute, which co-released a version of the report highlighting local implications. "But they create their own niche.... These small businesses that crop up fulfill a need...and become job creators."

White pointed out that in Colorado, immigrant business ownership is closely linked to immigrant labor, which have both increased dramatically over the last twenty years.

In the state, immigrants make up a slightly larger percentage of business owners than would be anticipated by their share of the labor force and the population. The number of these small businesses has grown from 2,499 in 1990 to 13,177 in 2010.

"Immigrant labor is a good thing, because it attracts these small entrepreneurs to come and fill a niche in our economy," White adds.

Across the country, Kallick says, the diversity of these businesses is also impressive. In addition to bigger tech companies, there are a lot of "bread and butter businesses," he says. "Grocery stores, nail salons, gas stations...that I think are making a pretty big difference. In many places, that's what defines a neighborhood."

More from our Immigration archive: "Undocumented youth deportation: Advocates joyful, skeptical of Obama policy change"