Skip to main content

The past few weeks in Providence, RI has been relatively challenging. My current project is figuring out possible pathways for increasing immigrant economic mobility. I’ve been researching the background of this problem, which has led to a lot of reading, analyzing, and assessing academic journal articles, state and regional reports, and policy recommendations.

One of the possible pathways is improving the micro-enterprise development sector in RI. Through creating their own businesses, it is a noticeable way for immigrants to show their economic contributions in the community. Foremost, these businesses create a livable income for the immigrants. But then they also create tax capital for the regions and the state, employ other people and create jobs, supply unmet demands in the market, and help attract more investments into the state. Immigrant-owned small businesses have a multitude of benefits for both the immigrant population and the overall state. But most of all, it is an opportunity for immigrants and refugees to take control over their financial state and their standards of living.

This idea of immigrants being noticed for their contributions is extremely important, as I found through my research and my conversations with various stakeholders in the community. The immigrant and refugee population account for nearly 13% of Rhode Island’s overall population. In addition to the cultural and social benefits that immigrants bring to the state, their economic contributions range from innovating in highly skilled tech and energy industries to filling crucial employment in various labor markets.

But instead of their contributions being highlighted or acknowledged, they are generally overlooked in many regards. For example, a report done by the Urban Initiative at the University of Rhode Island reported that “an alarming 80% of Rhode Islanders believe that immigrants do not strengthen the state.”  As a result, while there are services and programs for immigrants and refugees here in the Ocean State, there are not enough initiatives or even acknowledgement by local municipalities and the state government for these populations.

Upon receiving my preliminary reports, my supervisor and I decided on finding ways local organizations could make it easier for Rhode Island immigrant business owners to navigate complex regulations, attain capital and investments, and be provided with technical assistance. But one of the major issues I face is that these organizations are already stretched thin with so many other initiatives they try to provide for the immigrant population. To solve such a large problem, this needs government input but there is a lack of engagement with the local Rhode Island government and policymakers. What I’ve been seeing in my research on small businesses in Rhode Island is that various government reports and consulting firm analysis would identify the same issues and recommendations, but after that, there would be little or not enough follow through to create significant progress.

But a lack of government engagement is only one part of the bigger picture. Admittedly, I’m a bit overwhelmed. But I’m glad that this is work that I really like to do and have a passion for. Last week, I met with the head of the Rhode Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and his input and perspective was incredibly valuable. One of the things he mentioned was the value in organizations, like Dorcas International and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, working together and not in isolation. In other words, he said that reaching out to other people that really care about this will only help in the long term. At a time when there’s a lot of uncertainty, it’s a good piece of advice, especially when sometimes it seems like there’s no solution in sight for a very serious problem.