Almost half of small business owners in New York City are foreign born
Almost half of small business owners in New York City are foreign born

Earlier this summer, while still on the primary campaign trail and before he was the lead Democratic candidate, Bill De Blasio stopped at Haveli Restaurant in Forest Hills to meet with Indian business owners and showcase his plan to support immigrant owned businesses such as the Indian eatery.

“Lets take the burden off small business of excessive and unfair fines, lets leave the small business owners with the resources to actual create new jobs, and in fact lets go the next step lets provide loans if they need it,” said De Blasio at the event.

“So they can thrive and be the grassroots job creation engine that we need the small business sector to be. And that is particularly true for immigrant owned small businesses that are synonymous with the strength of New York City for generations and need to be for the future as well,” he emphasized.

One of the two Mayoral candidates who will soon face off in a general election, De Blasio is the only one to present a plan that would look to specifically benefit immigrant owned small business owners, a portion that represents almost half of all small business owners.

In 2011 there were 69,000 immigrant small businesses totaling 48 percent of the Cities total, according to a report released by the Fiscal Policy Institute.

There is potential for the next mayor to do more by removing barriers to immigrant entrepreneurship, believes David Dyssegaard Kallick, a fellow at the Institute who released the 2011 study.

“Immigration has not been much of an issue in the mayor’s race; it’s just not as controversial a topic in New York City as it is in other parts of the country,” said Kallick.

Kallick emphasized that providing a safer environment for immigrants with city-issued ID cards, more language classes and other initiatives would make for a better climate for immigrant owned small businesses.

While those are all plans that De Blasio outlines in his vision for “A Safer and More Accessible City for All Immigrants,” implementation would be out of his hands as mayor and in control of City Council or State Legislature, such as his plan for allowing undocumented New Yorkers access to drivers licenses.

His plan may be paying off. A search of campaign contributions shows a numbers chunky $500 and $1000 donations from those described as “Self employed business owners” from the immigrant enclaves of Flushing, Jackson Heights and Forest Hills. He even got a $2,475 donation from Payal Sharma, one of the Indian entrepreneurs of Manhattan hotspot Prana.

“Immigrants are a major driving force of the economy. It has not come from the major corporations but from the small guys,” said Dennis Reeder, executive director at Washington Heights Inwood Development Corporation. “And Bill De Blasio realizes that.”

Reeder described dealing with a predominantly Dominican population, who could start a business back home with just a sign in a window. He said once here they find confusion in finding out they need permits, certifications, tax ID’s, etc.

That Do-It-Yourself attitude could be why many immigrant owned business owners were unaware of help. As Public Advocate, De Blasio’s office found that 92 percent of immigrant business surveyed received no services to start, sustain, or grow. 51 percent were unaware such services were available to them.

As part of his plan to help these Businesses as Mayor De Blasio is proposing a five point plan that create economic development hubs in at least 12 immigrant and low-income areas, establish a $100 million dollar revolving find for neighborhood entrepreneurs promotes entrepreneurship training in even more languages, give local businesses, including immigrant small businesses, a second shot at city contracts and end the fine assault on small businesses.

Reeder and Kallick would not discuss personal politics of that of their organizations for this article but Reeder says if he had to guess, he would say a majority of the small business owners would lean towards De Blasio, though it’s still early and he hasn’t seen signs of support.

So far Republican Candidate Joe Lhota has not outlined any plans to help immigrant owned small businesses. Reeder said a Lhota administration would hark back to the Giuliani days with not much invest in the small guys.

“People are sick of authoritarians and they are looking for people who are willing to listen,” said Reeder. “Bill de Blasio has shown a commitment to the little guy.”

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