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The economic impact of immigrants to the state of Missouri and St. Louis

Betsy Cohen, Anna Crosslin and Alaa Alderie joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the economic impact of immigrants on the state of Missouri.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Betsy Cohen, Anna Crosslin and Alaa Alderie joined "St. Louis on the Air" to discuss the economic impact of immigrants on the state of Missouri.

Today, there are 224,430 foreign-born people living in Missouri. Some 14,000 of those immigrants are self-employed and immigrant-owned businesses that generated over $250 million in business income in 2014.

Those are some of the findings in a new report published by the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration advocacy group launched by Michael Bloomberg to influence policymakers toward immigration reform.

About half of Missouri’s immigrants are located in the St. Louis area, said Anna Crosslin, president and CEO of the St. Louis-based International Institute. What’s different about St. Louis’ immigrants is that a larger percentage of them came to the area as refugees as compared to the rest of the country. Likewise, among the immigrant population, many of the individuals started out in the community as students.

An immigrant entrepreneur influx into community coming through programs like Arch Grants or other initiatives is another recent trend, said Crosslin.

Crosslin joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh alongside Betsy Cohen, executive director of the St. Louis Mosaic Project, as well as Alaa Alderie, co-founder of the St. Louis-based Cham Bakery to discuss the report on Wednesday.

“In St. Louis, foreign-born people are sixty percent more likely to start a business than our native-born people,” said Cohen. “We know that they are starting high-tech businesses, such as through Arch Grants and BioSTL, but we also know they are starting neighborhood businesses that really drive retail, neighborhood startups that keep up economic, neighborhood vitality.”

The Mosaic Project, which Cohen leads, is working to help those entrepreneurs along the way. Their goal is to make St. Louis the fastest growing region for foreign-born people by the year 2020. Right now, St. Louis is currently ranked tenth.

“Foreign-born people do have that ability to be job creators, not job takers, and that when they start businesses, they create opportunity for all of us,” Cohen said.

Alderie, who came to St. Louis in 2012 from Syria, started Cham Bakery in 2014 with members of his family who had already resettled here. The bakery produces pita bread which is now distributed throughout the St. Louis region in stores like Schnucks, Whole Foods and Dierbergs and local restaurants. He predicts that the company will be distributing the pita nationally starting in 2017.

"Immigrants don't come here to relax or for vacation, they come to work. They have to work." - Alaa Alderie

Alderie said that starting a business was difficult but the process was made easier through the help of the city of St. Louis.

“I started a business in St. Louis as soon as I came here,” said Alderie. “That’s, in my opinion, a good point: immigrants don’t come here to relax or for vacation, they come to work. They have to work.”

Crosslin said that many people misunderstand what immigrants come to St. Louis for, thinking they come to a community expecting a free ride. That’s rarely the case, as Alderie’s own story shows.

“People only hear about how immigrants are taking things when the reality is they are giving in a big way,” said Crosslin, referencing the report’s findings that immigrants generated $250 million in business income in 2014.

The report also found that those immigrants had about $5 billion in spending power in Missouri in 2014.

“In addition to the $5 billion in spending power is the $1.8 billion in taxes they’re paying,” said Cohen. “They’re drivers to our state finances as well as the economics of where they use to buy and support our community, including home ownership.”

The report states that immigrants contributed $1.85 million to Medicare and $658 million to Social Security in Missouri in 2014.

Undocumented immigrants make up under one percent of the state’s population, about 60,000 people, which is relatively small, said Cohen. Their work underlies restaurant, agriculture and hospitality industries.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.