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Florida: Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Innovation, and Welcoming Initiatives in the Sunshine State

In Florida, there is no doubt that immigrant entrepreneurs and innovators play an important role. Immigrant entrepreneurs bring in additional revenue, create jobs, and contribute significantly to the state’s economy. Highly skilled immigrants are vital to the state’s innovation economy, and to the metropolitan areas within the state, helping to boost local economies. Furthermore, local government, business, and non-profit leaders recognize the importance of immigrants in their communities and support immigration through local “welcoming” and integration initiatives.

Immigrant entrepreneurs contribute significantly to Florida’s economy.

  • From 2006 to 2010, there were 286,144 new immigrant business owners in Florida, and in 2010, 29.7 percent of all business owners in the state were foreign-born.
  • In 2010, new immigrant business owners had a total net business income of $13.3 billion, which is 23.8 percent of all net business income in the state.
  • A couple of Florida metro areas have relatively high levels of immigrant business ownership relative to the foreign-born share of their populations.
    • In 2010, of the 25 largest U.S. metropolitan areas by total population, Miami had the highest foreign-born share of business owners: 45 percent of business owners in Miami are foreign-born, while 39 percent of Miami’s total population consists of immigrants.
    • The immigrant share of business owners in Tampa in 2010 was 17 percent, while 13 percent of Tampa’s total population was foreign-born.
  • Florida is currently home to seven of the 10 largest Latino-owned businesses in the country, many of which were founded by immigrants. With their Central and South Florida location, a large number of these firms play a valuable role boosting U.S. exports.
    • Quich Foods, for example, is a distributor of refrigerated and frozen foods and was originally founded by a Cuban immigrant.
    • Brightstar Corporation, founded by an immigrant from Guatemala, is one of the largest cell phone distributors in the world.
  • Immigrant entrepreneurs have been at the heart of many of Florida’s economic success stories. WellCare Health Plans, originally founded by an Indian cardiologist who grew up in Zambia, is a Florida-based Fortune 500 health insurance firm.
    • Several other firms based in the state, such as the transportation giant CSX, the communications firm Harris Corporation, and Office Depot also had at least one founder who either immigrated to the United States or was the child of an immigrant. Together, these firms employ more than 46,000 people today and bring in almost $80 billion in annual revenue.

Highly skilled immigrants are vital to Florida’s innovation economy.

  • Currently, high-skilled immigrant workers contribute to the success of many Florida-based companies and institutions with a significant presence in the state, including the University of Florida, System Soft Technologies, University of Miami, DGN Technologies, Management Health Systems, Florida International University, Florida Hospital, Siemens Energy Inc., University of Central Florida, Florida State University, Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, Verizon Data Services, UST Global Inc., Nicoinfo Systems Inc., and the University of South Florida.
  • In 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor certified 12,636 H-1B labor certification applications in Florida, with an average annual wage of $62,269, which is higher than Florida’s median household income of $47,827 or per capita income of $26,733.
  • An expansion of the high-skilled visa program would create an estimated 18,100 new jobs in Florida by 2020. By 2045, this expansion would add around $9 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $8.7 billion. The following are examples of metropolitan area demand for high-skilled foreign-born workers.
    • The Jacksonville metropolitan area had 1,283 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 77.7 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) occupations.
    • The Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area had 7,094 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 35.2 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.
    • The Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area had 1,365 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 47.3 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.
    • The Tallahassee metropolitan area had 335 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 74.3 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.
    • The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area had 2,126 H-1B high-skilled visa requests in 2010-2011, with 71.2 percent of H-1B visa-holders working in STEM occupations.

While the numbers are compelling, they don’t tell the whole story.

  • In Florida, immigrants open businesses in communities throughout the state. From the historic immigrant businesses of Miami, to new immigrant restaurants, markets, and other services in Orlando and many other cities, towns, and suburbs across Florida, immigrant entrepreneurs are providing goods and services and creating jobs in local places.
  • Due to its ties to Latin American trade and commerce, and its long history of welcoming immigrants from Latin America and other points of origin, Miami and other south Florida cities contain many examples of immigrant-owned businesses.
    • Researchers of place-based immigrant entrepreneurship suggest that “it is not simply the number of foreigners that makes Miami ‘the Capital of Latin America.’ Miami’s Cubans, and to a lesser degree, some of its other Latino groups have achieved unprecedented economic…power.”
    • In the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas of South Florida, the Vilariño family, originally from Cuba, has owned and operated the popular Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine restaurants for nearly 30 years. Today, there are over a dozen locations in and around the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach metropolitan area, with six opening within the past three years.
    • In Doral, Bok H. An opened Sakura, his first Japanese restaurant, in 1997, with another location in Miami-Dade County opening two years later. He later remodeled and expanded Sakura, renaming it Soo-Woo Japanese and Korean Steakhouse. An opened three additional restaurants within the past year in several neighborhoods such as Pembroke Pines and Country Walk.
  • In Central Florida, Orlando and its surrounding suburbs are home to vibrant and growing suburban immigrant neighborhoods, which include immigrant-owned restaurants, markets, retail, and other goods and services providers.
    • In Pine Hills, a new “Chinatown” development has sprung up along west Colonial Drive near Pine Hills Marketplace. This 50-store development includes a variety of Asian-owned restaurant, market, retail, and service establishments, including First Oriental Supermarket, a Taiwanese bakery, Beijing Acupuncture, and various other businesses.
    • Chinese immigrant Wai Kuen Pang’s company, Chinatown Development LLC, which has also developed similar shopping areas in Philadelphia, played a role in cultivating interest in the Orlando Chinatown development project.
    • The suburban Orlando Chinatown also blends with other nearby ethnic centers, including a Vietnamese shopping area and the Caribbean Supercenter across the street.
    • In Winter Park, Troy and Katja Gage immigrated from Canada around five years ago and started their grocery business, Eat More Produce. Their store provides community members the opportunity to purchase locally sourced and organic produce. Since they opened the business in 2008, the owners have more than doubled revenue and employ more than 20 people in the local community.

Some localities have begun recognizing and supporting immigration through local “welcoming,” integration initiatives, and resolutions.

  • Presently in Florida, local immigrant integration initiatives are typically led by place-specific non-profit, religious, and advocacy immigrant resource centers and organizations.
    • Jupiter: El Sol Jupiter’s Neighborhood Resource Center, which opened in 2006, provides the local community with a place for native-born residents and immigrants to come together and actively engage in the two-way process of immigrant integration.
    • Other examples have been found in recent years in places such as Homestead, Lake Worth, and Loxahatchee, and some communities, such as West Palm Beach, have expressed interest in creating similar local initiatives. However, funding and broader community engagement is often an issue in the process.
  • Additionally, some cities have passed resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform and immigrant integration in their local communities. These actions are examples of local leaders recognizing the importance of immigrants in their communities.
    • North Miami: The City of North Miami passed a resolution by the Mayor and City Council, in support of comprehensive immigration reform.  North Miami’s resolution is one example of the many cities across the country in support of comprehensive immigration reform.
    • Other Florida cities passing similar resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform in 2013 include Margate, Doral, Lauderhill, Sunrise, and Pompano Beach. Davie, Oakland Park, Weston, and Fort Lauderdale may also consider similar resolutions.

Published On: Wed, Jul 24, 2013 | Download File