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February 23, 2014

Column: Immigrant entrepreneurship is a strength of Gateway Cities

(Continued)

Economic development leaders looking to give this approach a try can turn to cities like Dayton, Ohio, and Des Moines, Iowa, where they’ve been working to put in place innovative immigrant entrepreneurship strategies. Closer to home, there are also some models worth a look: Lowell’s immigrant entrepreneurship initiative was the centerpiece of an application for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge. Together with MassINC, the Immigrant Learning Center and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, Lynn recently piloted an immigrant entrepreneurship project with a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Studying other examples can be informative and inspirational, but other communities have struggled to marshal the resources to make this work effective. Massachusetts has two existing funding streams that could power these initiatives with just a bit of improvement.

The Small Business Technical Assistance Grant provided by the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation needs a new infusion of funds, and the Workforce Training Fund Programs administered by Commonwealth Corporation needs some additional flexibility. With these resources, communities can design programs tailored to help immigrant entrepreneurs build the skills they will need to grow their businesses.

Promoting immigrant entrepreneurship is difficult work, with no groundbreaking at the beginning or ribbon-cutting at the end. But initiatives such as these are how Gateway Cities can take the long view and work to continuously reinvent themselves so that they can drive regional economies across our Commonwealth well into the new century.

Ben Forman is director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute at MassINC. Marcia Hohn is director of the Public Education Institute at The Immigrant Learning Center Inc. A newly released MassINC report looks at the challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs and how Gateway Cities can help them thrive to the benefit of their communities.

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