January 21, 2019

Oxford's Russian non-oligarch

Valentin Gapontsev, the founder and CEO of Oxford laser manufacturer IPG Photonics, sued the U.S. Treasury in December over his listing as a Russian oligarch. According to Gapontsev's lawsuit, the Treasury in a slapdash effort to fulfill a Congressional requirement, copy and pasted Forbes' Russian billionaires list onto a list of Russian oligarchs with close ties to the Kremlin. Despite that Gapontsev is an American citizen, owns a company headquartered in America, and has an amazing story of American entrepreneurial success, his Treasury listing has had very real consequences for the company. The suit claims because of his inclusion on that list, clients have become concerned they shouldn't do business with the Oxford firm, particularly for U.S. government contracts. Gapontsev is a wealthy man, and that's not going to change, but the idea of the region's most successful public company of the last decade losing hard-won business momentum because of an inaccurate characterization by the Treasury is galing.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election cast a pall on many things Russian, and combined with the more vexing anti-immigrant rhetoric, it's a perfect storm for dark conspiracies. It can make us forget the important role immigrant entrepreneurs play in driving our economy. Millions of immigrants with fewer resources than Gapontsev bringing value to the economy are in the crosshairs. It can be easy to forget what makes our country great, and new Americans arrive every year to pursue dreams. We're only going to sustain our economic leadership when we remember to celebrate, not denigrate, those contributions.


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