Immigrants Mean Business (OPINION)

Commissioner Bishop with the featured business owners. NYC Department of Small Business Services

By Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services

It’s Immigrant Heritage Month, a perfect time to celebrate New York City’s small business community.  Why? Because over half of the City’s 230,000 small businesses are owned by foreign-born New Yorkers. From arepas to zabaglione, immigrants brought the flavors, goods and services from their countries of origin that have become our favorite neighborhood stops.  The strong economic framework that we enjoy today is a direct result of the City’s welcoming policy toward immigrants that we have maintained for over 100 years.

From 1892 to 1954, over 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island. Before that, another 8 million came through Castle Garden in The Battery. Today, 38 percent of New Yorkers have immigrated here from other countries. According to the most recent numbers from the Fiscal Policy Institute, in 2017 alone New York City’s immigrant business owners brought in $5.2 billion of the $13.2 billion in total individual earnings from incorporated businesses.

With an understanding of economic impact, and as an immigrant New Yorker myself, I have made it a priority for SBS to ensure that immigrant entrepreneurs know they are fully supported by the City. This month, we launched a new pop-up exhibit at the Tenement Museum called Immigrants Mean Business: An Enduring History of Entrepreneurship. The exhibit celebrates the foreign-born New Yorkers’ rich history and recognizes their contributions as the foundation of the City’s economy.  

Via NYC Department of Small Business Services

Immigrant business owners are more than faceless cogs in our economic machine. Each carries with them a story of ambition and perseverance that led to entrepreneurship and the pursuit of the American Dream. Our new exhibit tells these stories through present-day and archival images of immigrant business owners. At the exhibit, you’ll meet twenty business owners including a Nigerian immigrant who went from selling fish with her grandmother in Nigeria to selling her own brand of water in NYC – and a Dominican immigrant who first learned about entrepreneurship through her mother’s success as a beachside food vendor.

Unsurprisingly, many of the featured business owners faced challenges while trying to make it here. This is why SBS provides supportive services tailored to the needs of foreign-born New Yorkers. We offer no-cost services and resources to entrepreneurs in immigrant communities throughout the city in multiple languages, including culturally-sensitive business courses, financing assistance, pro-bono legal aid, and more. We are supporting immigrant entrepreneurs like Yudelka Carrera who is featured in the exhibit and stated that “One of the biggest challenges for me coming to this country and starting my own business was learning the details of how businesses work here.”

Join us to celebrate the families, perhaps even your own – whose immigrant entrepreneurship built the foundation of this City and keep it thriving. The free exhibit is open now and will run every weekend through the summer until September 8th, 2019.

For more information on the exhibit, visit or

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