November 12, 2018

Get to know Worcester's immigrants

When Robert Kennedy, the former executive director of Worcester's Mechanics Hall, was feted at a retirement celebration this fall, he reflected among his favorite events to attend was the hall's annual naturalization ceremony for new citizens. Seeing immigrants from all walks of life receive this remarkable achievement is an uplifting and inspirational experience. Naturalization ceremonies were also held this year at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner and the Worcester Art Museum where hundreds of people living in our region became U.S. citizens. The path to citizenship in a country of immigrants is a well-worn road.

Throughout history, our cities have absorbed a larger portion of immigrants into their new home, and today is no different. At the turn of the 20th century, Worcester was riding a wave of immigrants from Europe, with the largest group coming from Ireland. Yet by the 1990s, immigrants had dropped from more than 30 percent of the city's population to under 10 percent. This downward trend has reversed itself as thousands of new immigrants have moved to Worcester from a new set of countries from around the globe.

Immigration has been the source of divisive rhetoric in the United States since Irish immigrants stated landing in waves in the 1800s, but the decibel level has been greatly amplified over the last couple years. Much of this political pandering is centered around fear-mongering and issues like language barriers and cultural assimilation. Here in Worcester, where the immigrant population is larger than the national average, we took a different approach by partnering with the Worcester Regional Research Bureau for a by-the-numbers look at the immigrant community's impact on the economy.

The results of that study show that Worcester's immigrants are more entrepreneurial, create an above-average amount of wealth, and attract customers to their enterprises well outside of their own cultural background. For the larger Worcester business community, this entrepreneurial vigor represents a real opportunity. How? Think about partnering with Rosy and Marcos Reynoso, owners of Rosy's Beauty Salon and Rosy's Grocery, to learn how to better attract their Dominican clientele for your company. Spend some time with Emmanuel Larbi, who imports spices directly from Ghana for his restaurant, Accra Girls; maybe he can help you import Ghanaian products for your business. Or look at the accomplishments of Brazil native Lilian Radke who took a cleaning company with $350,000 in an annual revenue and over an eight year period has built a $5-million behemoth. Chances are, this 2017 U.S. Small Business Administration Massachusetts Woman Small Business Owner of the Year might have some insight on how to better run your company.

Much like Robert Kennedy at Mechanics Hall discovered at naturalization ceremonies and in his work with community members, engaging with the city's immigrants is a rewarding experience. With the state's unemployment at record lows, we can't afford not to have a fresh pipeline of new workers coming into the region. The region's immigrant community remains a vital feeder for new employees as well as entrepreneurs. The more we understand the needs and aspirations of our immigrant community and the better we can support their efforts and engage them in the broader business community, the stronger we'll all be.


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