Book review: Immigrant Inc. — why welcoming newcomers is the right and smart thing to do

Immigrant, Inc.: Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs are Driving the New Economy

By Richard Herman and Robert Smith

John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


So about Settlement and Integration Services Organization's New Dawn Reception Centre for refugees on the West Mountain.

In my opinion, we don’t need a refugee reception centre in Hamilton. We need a whole lot of centres all throughout our city. And yes, I’d be more than happy to have a centre in my backyard and have newcomers for neighbours.

And here’s why. Immigrants and refugees will be the lifeblood of our city. If we’re serious about building a stronger, more prosperous community, we need to welcome newcomers with open arms instead of anonymous letters stuffed in mailboxes.

In the not so distant future, it’s expected that immigration will account for all the growth in Hamilton’s population and workforce. What’s more, there’s a good chance a disprorpropriate percentage of those newcomers will become our next generation of hometown entrepreneurs and small business owners. And those are the folks who will create new jobs, new wealth and new prosperity and make Hamilton an even greater place for all us to call home.

“Coming from all corners of the globe, immigrant innovation and entrepreneurship is the real job-creating stimulus,” say authors Richard Herman and Robert Smith. “Immigrants bring the skills to create those jobs, but they bring something even more valuable. They bring their dreams.”

South of the border, immigrants created 450,000 high skilled jobs by founding one-fourth of the nation’s technology and engineering companies between 1995 and 2005.  Another study by the Immigrant Learning Center near Boston found that a quarter of biotech companies in New England had at least one immigrant founder and that those companies employed more than 4,000 workers and produced more than $7 billion in sales in 2006.

And here’s the thing. Most immigrants don’t arrive with dreams of being their own boss. The Kauffman Foundation did a survey of high-tech founders who’d immigrated to the United States. “The researchers learned something wholly unexpected,” say Herman and Smith. “Almost none of the founders set out to become entrepreneurs – not initially. In fact, the burst of entrepreneurship surprised even the immigrants. Few had come to America with the aim of starting a business. Some came to take a job, a few came to join family already here, but most came to earn an advanced college degree.”

An average of 13 years after immigrating, these new Americans started their own business. And enough of them launched companies to power a technology revolution.

“For a budding entrepreneur, the new immigrants offer success traits and trade secrets that can be studied and copied,” say Herman and Smith. “For a struggling neighbourhood or a Rust Belt city, they hold out hope for revival. For a nation resolved to be a leader in a global economy, they offer a pool of world-class talent.”

Herman and Smith have coined the term Immigrant, Inc. to describe a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. In studying immigrant entrepreneurs who’ve made their mark, the authors have come up with a short list of success traits that all of us can adopt to unleash our inner immigrant:

· A keen sense of adventure with a pioneering spirit.

· A reverence for education and treating academics like a marquee sport.

· Love and respect for family.

· An eagerness to collaborate.

· A tolerance for risk and failure.

· Passion, often borne of desperation.

· A tendency to dream.

Or as Google vice president and immigrant Omid Kordestani told the graduating class of 2007 at San Jose State University, “To keep an edge, I must think and act like an immigrant. There is a special optimism and drive that I benefited from and continue to rely on that I want all of you to find. Immigrants are inherently dreamers and fighters.”

And one last story, closer to home. On the same day I got an email alert from SISO about the anti-New Dawn Centre flyer making the rounds on the West Mountain, I came home from work to find my daughter surrounded by markers, glitter glue and paper on the living room floor. She was busy making Happy Chinese New Year cards for her classmates. She wasn’t doing it because it was an assignment or mandated exercise in cultural diversity. She was making the cards out of friendship. And that’s what we should be putting in the mailboxes of newcomers to our community.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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