The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 19, 2009

Immigration key to business growth

Immigrants add $400 million to Minnesota economy

Facts are stubborn things when it comes to the value of immigration in Minnesota and the nation, but unfortunately, much of the immigration debate isn't informed by facts.

That's the essential conclusion of a report recently completed on immigration in Minnesota and backed by several business groups including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

The report by the Humphrey Institute says immigrant-owned businesses in Minnesota generated $331 million in net income in Minnesota almost nine years ago. Adjusting for inflation, the figure is probably closer to $420 million.

Other salient facts: Hispanic-owned businesses have grown by 350 percent since 1990. The U.S. gains a net $37 billion from immigration, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. And some 25 percent of all doctors nationwide are immigrants as are 40 percent of engineers with Ph.Ds.

In Minnesota, immigration will play a key role in the state's economic future, according to the report. Immigrants add not only economic activity such as starting businesses, getting jobs, spending money and paying taxes, they also add to cultural diversity.

Report author Prof. Katherine Fennelly notes that the benefits don't always "trickle down" to local communities, but that lack of short-term benefits shouldn't outweigh the long-term benefits that occur when immigrants enter the labor force.

Of course, immigration has been a divisive and emotional issue and one where partisan lines are not easily drawn between Democrats and Republicans. In fact, Sen. John McCain, has been one of the leading proponents of immigration reform that values the diversity and economic benefit immigrants bring to the country.

Business groups may be the real fulcrum to move this issue forward for the economic benefit of everyone. That's why the Chamber and other coalition groups including the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Restaurant Association and Minnesota Lodging Association, deserve kudos for backing the study and the issue.

We only have to remember the contributions of immigrants past - Norwegians, Swedes, Germans, Irish, French - to realize the economic value they bring to the state.

The report authors recommend there's much to do to fully integrate that state's immigrants into social and economic life. Part of that will require resources to make sure young immigrants are staying in school and later getting the job training they need.

The report will add facts to the usually emotional immigrant debate at the Legislature. We hope legislators at state and national level can act on those facts and boost the economy with sensible and reasonable immigration policies.