ATLANTA—A study by Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Department of Public Management and Policy chair and professor Cathy Yang Liu highlights the increasing number of cities nationwide implementing policy providing resources, ranging from informational to financial, to support immigrant entrepreneurs. Liu and coauthor Xi Huang of the University of Central Florida (Ph.D. in Public Policy 2017) also assesses how well these policies meet the unique challenges faced by these entrepreneurs.
They analyzed 20 policies, programs or strategic plans from 16 cities selected from a list provided by Welcoming America, an initiative that joined a network of cities aiming to integrate immigrants and newcomers into local society.
The results indicate many public programs fell short of fully addressing the barriers faced by immigrant entrepreneurs, who represent 13 percent of the United States population and 18 percent of small business owners nationwide.
Overall, the policies had two weaknesses: inadequate focus on cultural and institutional barriers and a scarcity of institutions designed to serve immigrants, many of whom avoid contact with local institutions due to a mistrust of government entities, limited knowledge of procedures, or low comfort with formal organizations.
Immigrant-owned businesses promote overall job growth, and many meet the market needs of underserved neighborhoods. They have the potential to revitalize abandoned communities and increase the social and cultural diversity of urban areas. Providing services that unlock this potential will provide economic and social benefits.
Immigrant-owned businesses would benefit from changes to government institutions that change their perceptions, Liu and Huang assert. However, the cities’ policies tended to focus on programs such as business information hubs to address language and information barriers, rather than adding new programming to enact systemic changes. Only a quarter of the cities had initiatives to promote immigrant representatives in local institutions or include immigrant-owned businesses in government contracting.
Similarly, governments tended to extend existing resources to immigrant entrepreneurs or connect them with outside services instead of building institutions designed for them.
None of the programs considered the diversity across immigrant groups and their various needs or challenges, except one program that offered financial support especially for Muslim entrepreneurs.
Improving current policy can go a long way, according to Liu and Huang. They also offer a new type of program that could make waves in local economies.
Place-based programs for city districts especially designed for clusters of immigrant-owned businesses would allow them to break out of enclave markets and attract a wider range of customers,” said Liu. “City planning, such as sidewalk and storefront design, signage or public arts could mark the districts, which could also provide easy access to services especially for immigrants.”
Because each city has different resources and needs, Liu and Huang encourage policymakers to know their cities’ populations and the types of programs that would provide them the greatest benefits.
“Our hope is that this research starts conversations that strengthen the mutually beneficial relationship between immigrant entrepreneurs and their cities,” she said.
Cathy Yang Liu
Public Management & Policy
Professor & Department Chair
Cathy Yang Liu is the Department Chair and a Professor of Public Policy at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University. She received her Ph.D. in Urban Planning from the University of Southern California and Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago. She serves as the faculty director for the Urban Planning and Policy concentration in bachelor, master, and Ph.D. in public policy degree programs and as faculty advisor for the Graduate Certificate in Planning and Economic Development.