Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 23, 2014

Phil Power: Immigrants' impact in state an impressive one

Gov. Rick Snyder likes to describe himself as “one tough nerd.” He is also widely and accurately regarded as a numbers guy.

And his annual State of the Speech last week was, indeed, true to type. There was none of the soaring rhetoric of his predecessor, Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Our governor would never win an oratory contest, and I suspect he knows it.

But instead, what we got was a down-to-earth, wide-ranging list of topics, from campaign promises kept and initiatives accomplished to some forward-looking priorities. Snyder is clearly, if unofficially, running for a second term, and the speech offered an advance look at what his re-election campaign will look like.

For me, the most interesting part of the speech had to do with his emphasis on how immigrants coming to Michigan can be an essential part of our state’s economic development strategy.

To his credit, Snyder has been talking about welcoming immigrants ever since his first State of the State back in 2011. This time, however, he called for creating a “Michigan Office for New Americans” to help educated, talented and ambitious immigrants, and he urged federal approval for a visa program to help provide a path to citizenship for entrepreneurial immigrants who come with at least $500,000 in capital to invest in new businesses.

Indeed, the metrics of what immigrants have done here are impressive — even to a numbers guy. From 1995-2005, one quarter of all high-tech startups in the U.S. were founded by non-native born entrepreneurs, fully half of all such firms in Silicon Valley.

In Michigan, where only 6 percent of our population today is foreign born, a radically disproportionate 32 percent of high-tech startups from 1990 to 2005 were founded by immigrants!

In fact, nearly one-sixth of all businesses started in Michigan between 1996 and 2007 were launched by immigrants; in all, those 2,276 firms generated $1.5 billion in one year alone.

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