Several recent studies are helping to clarify what many people already know about Alaska's immigrant business owners: Foreign-born entrepreneurs have a positive economic impact on the state. At the same time, policy makers, the business community--and immigrants themselves--are striving to make Alaska a more welcoming and accommodating place for everyone.
The latest Alaska-based research clearly establishes how immigrants play an important financial role in the state. According to the August 2016 Contributions of New Americans in Alaska report by New American Economy (NAE), only 7.6 percent of Alaska's population is foreign-born. Yet, Alaska is home to almost 3,000 self-employed immigrants. In 2014, immigrant-owned businesses generated $58.5 million in business income. And as a conservative estimate, 15,512 people in Alaska and Wyoming combined were employed at firms owned by immigrants in 2007. (Data on Alaska alone is not available for confidentiality reasons.)
Immigrants in Alaska also make significant contributions to the state as taxpayers and consumers. In 2014, Alaska's immigrantled households earned $1.8 billion--8.2 percent of all income earned by Alaskans that year; helped to contribute more than $1 in every $13 paid by Alaska residents in state and local tax revenues; and paid almost $246 million into the Social Security and Medicare programs, NAE reported.
NAE is a unique partnership that brings together more than 500 Republican, Democratic, and Independent mayors and business leaders who support immigration reforms that will help create jobs for Americans.
NAE's Alaska-specific research is exciting to Mara Kimmel, JD, PhD, one of the foremost experts on immigrants and immigrantentrepreneurship in Alaska. Kimmel--the wife of Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and co-founder of the nonprofit Alaska Institute for Justice--says NAE's research quantifies the economic impact of immigrantowned businesses in Alaska. "It's the first time we have ever documented the numbers [for Alaska]," Kimmel says. "I'm happy that we finally have data and information we can talk about in meaningful ways."
For example, the NAE report shows that given their percentage of Alaska's population and financial impact, foreign-born business owners generate a positive disproportionate benefit in the state. And they represent a huge potential that can be tapped, especially with the current state of Alaska's economy, Kimmel says. "We need to make sure that all hands who want to be on deck are on deck," she says. "That means breaking down barriers to entry in the market."
Breaking down barriers involves having honest conversations about immigrants and understanding the human stories behind the numbers. Immigration reform is not a partisan issue but a human issue, says Kimmel, a former political science professor at University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and long-standing advocate for human rights. "When you humanize an issue, you're able to get past the rhetoric and vitriol," she says. "Immigrants are people just like you and me. These are people we depend on for the health and well-being of our communities."
More Immigrants Drawn to Alaska
The Contributions of New Americans in Alaska report also highlights the state's growing appeal to immigrants. While only 7.6 percent of Alaska's population is foreignborn, Alaska has increasingly been drawing immigrants in recent years. Between 2010 and 2014, the foreign-born population in Alaska expanded by more...