State House Ceremony Honors Immigrant Entrepreneurship

Government joins business, academia and non-profit sector to celebrate drivers of Massachusetts' economic vitality


October 19, 2012 BOSTON"This is Massachusetts!" exclaimed State Representative Linda Dorcena Forry  this morning, extending her arm to the business people gathered before her at the Grand Staircase in the State House. "A community of diverse people coming together and giving all they have to offer."

 Beside the Dorchester Representative stood six immigrant entrepreneurs originally from five different nations on four different continents, all of whom had come to Massachusetts and started successful businesses that embodied the words of Governor Patrick's official proclamation today: "entrepreneurial ingenuity is the lifeblood of the Commonwealth."

For the second year in a row, the governor issued the proclamation to declare October "Immigrant Entrepreneurship Month" in Massachusetts, a proclamation that also recognizes the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and its new arm, theNew Americans Integration Institute (NAII). Rep. Forry joined with Sate Senator Sal DiDomenico in their capacity as Chairs of the Joint Committee on Community Development and Small Business to host the event. Beside the honored immigrant entrepreneurs stood representatives of state offices, academia, and the non-profit sector to demonstrate how   public-private partnerships can help immigrants thrive.

It was a point emphasized by the penultimate speaker, UMass political science professor Paul Watanabe, "The resources people need are not just with government, but with other businesses, with academia — my sector — and with non-profit organizations like the New Americans Integration Institute, a perfect example of the leveraging power that advocacy and research organizations can provide."

The event opened with comments from the two joint committee chairs. "As the grandson of an immigrant, I'm passionate about immigration and immigrant entrepreneurship," said Senator DiDomenico, describing his grandfather's solo immigrant journey at age 14, a story of hardship and success he sees replayed by today's immigrant entrepreneurs. "They work exceptionally hard, and they are the drivers of economic growth. In fact, an immigrant is more than twice as likely to start a business as a native born resident."

Other speakers supported Senator DiDomenico's point through both personal stories and impressive statistics (including the fact that immigrant owned businesses accounted for $4 billion in sales last year in Boston alone). Gregory Bialecki, Secretary of the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, outlined some of the changes underway to further support immigrant entrepreneurship, from the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation to the redesign of the government's web portal. Josiane Martinez, Director of the Mass. Office for Refugees and Immigrants, spoke of assisting refugees in their entrepreneurial dreams. Reverend Chang Imm Tan, Director of the Office of New Bostonians, noted that all immigrants are first entrepreneurs by making the bold decision to restart life in a new country. And Ron Marlow, from the Office of Access & Opportunity, spoke about making the playing field level for all business people.

Secretary Marlow, who chairs the advisory board of the NAII, also introduced Eva Millona, Executive Director of the MIRA, which houses the NAII. As Ms. Millona noted, MIRA launched the NAII exactly one year ago, on the occasion of Governor Patrick's first proclamation.

"One of the mission's of the New Americans Integration Institute is to support immigrant entrepreneurs, a crucial and under-reported segment of our economy, " Ms. Millona said. "Our model is a first in the nation, to approach the issue not only with studies, but with policy initiatives in everything from bank lending to professional re-credentialing."

Ms. Millona then introduced Enrique Shadah, the Venezuelan-born founder of the appropriately named Startup Blvd. Other honorees included Malee Thain, the Cambodian owner of a shopping complex in Lowell; Greg and Brendan Feeney, Irish brothers who employ over 200 people with their excavation company; Wilton Rangel, owner of a Brazilian restaurant that has become a major community meeting place; and Dieufort "Keke" Fleurissaint, owner of a financial services business, as well as a pastor and social activist.

"People ask me which one am I," said Mr. Fleurissaint. "And I answer all three. I follow Jesus' teaching — my job is to bring the good news to my community, to the poor and under-served, in every way I can, as a pastor, as an activist, and as a businessman."