Immigrants are the drivers behind a large segment of small business growth in Philadelphia. But how large?
Mayor Jim Kenney pegged it as the vast majority yesterday. It’s Immigrant Business Week in Philly, and while commemorating the week’s launch, Kenney tweeted: “Kicking off Philly’s first Immigrant Business Week! Immigrants are responsible for 96 percent of our small biz growth since 2000. #PHLimmigrantbiz.”
This figure was sourced from a city fact-sheet on immigration and sanctuary cities. But here’s the thing: Both the tweet, and the fact-sheet from which it was drawn, are incorrect. After inquiries from PolitiFact Pennsylvania, a city spokeswoman called it “mistake that we’ll be correcting.”
The fact-sheet cited a 2015 Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce report, which itself was referencing analysis produced by the Fiscal Policy Institute: immigrant business owners accounted for 96 percent of Main Street business growth in the city from 2000 to 2013.
In that same time span, immigrant entrepreneurs represented 18 percent of Philadelphia’s small business growth overall.
What are Main Street establishments, exactly? The research, which was co-produced by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas, uses it as an umbrella term for the following categories of businesses: “neighborhood services,” like salons and laundromats; “accommodation and food services,” like taverns, restaurants, but also inns; “retail” including a wide range of shops.
According to Pew, immigrants make up 13 percent of the city population. With an 18 percent share of small business growth, foreign-born entrepreneurs are more prone to open new businesses than their counterparts, and overwhelmingly so when it comes to opening Main Street businesses.
“This is not something unique to Philadelphia. It’s something we see nationally,” explained Kate Brick, who edited the Fiscal Policy Institute and Americas Society/Council of the Americas report. Main Street establishments may be more attractive to this demographic, she added, because they pose a “lower barrier of entry to starting a new business.”
The report, which described these mom-and-pops as “less capital intensive” and “small-scale” also noted: “Immigrants often get a foothold in this country by opening small businesses in run-down areas, which also have immigrant residents. A Dominican, Kurdish, or African immigrant may have a better sense of what their compatriots in the area would like to buy in a grocery or clothing store, or what would entice them to a restaurant.” In 2013, 28 percent of Main Street businesses were immigrant-owned.
As Billy Penn has reported, while millennials get much of the attention, immigrants are fueling Philadelphia’s population boom. That’s one reason why local immigrant business growth has been so impressive. Another, the report noted, are the city’s support through programs out of the Mayor’s Office and Office of Immigrant Affairs, as well as partnerships with organizations like the Welcoming Center. Further, foreign-born residents have played a heavy hand in rejuvenating commercial corridors like the Italian Market, which has become popular for Latino and Southeast Asian business owners in recent decades, and North Fifth Street. That corridor was once dominated by shop owners of German ancestry more than a half century ago, but it’s now the cultural nerve center of the Barrio.
After PolitiFact PA contacted representatives for the mayor, Kenney retweeted his earlier message with a new note that the figure was referring to Main Streets specifically.
Kenney originally tweeted that “immigrants are responsible for 96% of our small biz growth since 2000.”
This is not true, and his office, after PolitiFact Pennsylvania made them aware of the error, has since acknowledged that.
We rate this claim False.