The New Merchants on Main: Far-reaching efforts to attract immigrants can help transform city neighborhoods

The New Merchants on Main: Far-reaching efforts to attract immigrants can help transform city neighborhoods

Mobile and move-in ready, immigrants are well-poised to transform the landscape of Michigan’s inner-city neighborhoods. They have the determination, skills and, most often, funding needed to start new businesses.

Where they go, prosperity usually follows. In 2010, new immigrant business owners generated $1.8 billion in total net business income, which represented 9.2 percent of Michigan’s net business income.

“We’ve got to stop looking at what immigrants ‘take away’ from our communities and concentrate on what they add, particularly to distressed inner-city environments,” says Bing Goei, the Grand Rapids community leader who heads the Michigan Office for New Americans. That office was founded in 2014 by Gov. Rick Snyder to help propel Michigan’s comeback by attracting and retaining highly skilled immigrants.

“Even some of our most distressed urban neighborhoods don’t dissuade immigrants. Many are accustomed to much more challenging living environments with little opportunity for growth and development,” says Goei, an Asian-American who immigrated to Michigan from Indonesia.

A part of their success is based upon a “have not” mentality.

“Their commitment to succeed is much higher than the average American,” Goei says. “Therefore they are unafraid of the challenges and rigors of urban life. Failure for them is not an option. They have to succeed to survive.”

Immigrants are three times more likely to be business owners than the average American and often do not rely upon traditional startup funding to finance their new business, according to Goei. Those businesses are often smaller, service-oriented start-ups, which can strengthen a neighborhood’s economy and growth.

“Many rely upon personal and family savings, as well as sweat equity support from family members to support their business operations,” he says. “And, when they succeed, they reach back and help other family members do the same.”

Bing hopes to expand this kind of mentorship beyond family-run businesses. He is embarking on a plan to solicit funding from successful immigrant business owners such as him to create a funding source for immigrant entrepreneurs.

Although the Office for New Americans could easily develop a strategic plan for neighborhood re-development, it won’t, says Bing. He is adamant that neighborhoods must develop and clearly articulate their own strategic plan in the area of housing and business needs. Included in their plan must be a strategy of how the neighborhood would invite and support the growth of immigrant-owned businesses in their neighborhood

Neighborhoods interested in developing and nurturing such relationships should email the Michigan Office for New Americans at

Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO, ASG Renaissance
Lizabeth Ardisana, CEO, ASG Renaissance

Entrepreneurs like Lizabeth Ardisana add billions of dollars and tens of thousands of jobs to Michigan’s economy, according to the Michigan Office for New Americans.

The CEO of ASG Renaissance, a Dearborn-based professional services firm, reports more than $25 million in annual revenue and employs more than 250 people.

After more than 20 years of running her own successful business, the granddaughter of Cuban immigrants is on a mission to help other immigrant and minority-owned businesses get further ahead, and faster than she ever dreamed of.


“We need to transform our economy,” she says. “And in order to do that, we have to leverage our best assets ─ and that’s our people.”
Ardisana, who sits on the executive board of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), is helping recruit more women and minorities into the skilled trades, with more than 70,000 open positions available today.

Many immigrants see opportunities in the city, says Tack Yong Kim, publisher the Michigan Korean Weekly, who reports many of the 300 local Korean-owned businesses operating in the Detroit metro market are interested in expansion opportunities.

International interest?

“It’s not as high as it should be. In fact, it’s nearly non-existent,” he says. “There are a significant number of would-be Asian investors, who are not even aware of the sizable development opportunities here in Detroit.”

A more direct approach is needed, says Kim, who is working with state leaders to bring together smaller, more intimate groups of would-be investors to explore urban development opportunities.

Editor’s Note: Michigan’s 21,589 Asian-owned businesses had sales receipts of $7.7 billion and employed 66,293 people in 2007. Source: Michigan Office for New Americans

JoAnn Chávez, Chair, Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and VP  & Chief Tax Officer DTE Energy
JoAnn Chávez, Chair, Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and VP
& Chief Tax Officer DTE Energy

Joann Chávez, the newly appointed chair of the Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (MHCC), sees significant expansion opportunities for Michigan’s existing Hispanic-owned businesses.

“The MHCC will be concentrating significant attention on growing its ‘high-impact entrepreneurs,'” she says. “By concentrating our attention on expanding our existing businesses with capacity for growth, we can exponentially drive employment and economic development here in Michigan.”
Editor’s Note: Michigan’s 10,770 Latino-owned businesses generated more than $ 3.9 billion in annual revenue and employed more than 18,508 in 2007. Source: Michigan Office for New Americans

Doug Smith, Senior Advisor, Urban Initiatives, MEDC
Doug Smith, Senior Advisor, Urban Initiatives, MEDC

Doug Smith, a renowned economic development specialist, is helping ensure Michigan’s urban cities are both development friendly and development ready.

Some are not both, says Smith. He points out investments are more likely in regions that have clearly defined their available workforce as well as existing company clusters, supply chains and logistical advantages.

“Offering a welcoming environment and supportive infrastructure is critical,” he says. “There are many ways we can encourage business investment. One of the most important is our ability to collaborate and support regional investments that benefit us all.”





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