Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Immigrant entrepreneurs can transform small, even dying, communities.


Not very long ago, the former mill town of Lewiston, Maine was a dying community, unable to reinvent itself after the mills closed. Yet an influx of entrepreneurial Somalis followed by other Africans with good trading connections has revived and reshaped its economy.  As quoted in areport for the Ford Foundation (p. 15), the head of the local growth council said, “It’s been an absolute blessing in many ways…just to have an infusion of diversity, an infusion of culture and of youth.”  The transformation of Lewiston appears to have been triggered by the arrival of a single family that in turn recruited other friends and families to settle in the town. The result has been an infusion of people and new businesses.
Most of Canada’s immigrants settle in large urban centres, but studies of immigrants in rural Canada show that many do prefer to live in smaller communities.  Immigrants may enjoy various benefits of living in small communities. Indeed, a 2008 Statistics Canada study found that immigrants fared better in smaller communities in various ways:
  • immigrants in smaller areas quickly learn an official language because official language communication is more important in smaller areas than larger cities
  • immigrants with less education in smaller areas fare better economically than immigrants with less education in larger cities
  • refugees integrate quicker in smaller areas than in larger cities
At the same time, smaller communities are increasingly interested in attracting more immigrants: immigration is viewed as a means of countering population decline and revitalizing local economies.  To attract and retain immigrants, smaller communities need to offer economic opportunities, services and supports that newcomers need, and amenities such as transit.  Moreover, the communities must be welcoming of new cultures and new ideas.
In Nova Scotia, for example, the unemployment rate among immigrants was 7.4% in 2009, lower than for native Nova Scotians and immigrants to the rest of Canada.  This is partially due to the larger incidence of immigrants creating their own businesses.  As cited in an online article, Howard Ramos of Dalhousie University noted: “This is what I find interesting — a lot of the successful migrants are people who have come as entrepreneurial immigrants…. They open a hotel, kayaking outfitter or some value-added tourist element — they provide jobs for themselves, their families and a few people in the community.”
Click here to open a report on Immigrants in Rural Canada based on the 2006 Census.