Traverse City Record-Eagle

Michigan

April 15, 2013

Program launched to help immigrant entrepreneurs

DETROIT (AP) — As lawmakers in Washington work out an overhaul of the immigration system, a Michigan-based social and economic services agency has launched a comprehensive program to help immigrants open or expand businesses.

Dearborn-based ACCESS recently held a graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of its Immigrant Entrepreneur Development Program. It’s one of several immigrant- and refugee-focused efforts in the organization’s new Growth Center division.

The Detroit area, which is home to one of the nation’s largest Arab populations, also has Nigerian, Bangladeshi, Bosnian and other communities. The program aims to assist newcomers in their entrepreneurial quest through classes, individual business coaching and direct access to programs and services inside and outside of the organization, such as business incubators and financial institutions.

Sonia Harb, the Growth Center’s senior director, said ACCESS has provided worker training and development for years, but the economic downturn a few years ago forced its leaders to retool and expand offerings.

“Historically, employers really embrace an immigrant workforce because they’re dedicated and hardworking,” she said. “When the economy took a dive, it became more and more difficult for immigrants to land those positions. Employers did not then look at immigrants as a priority audience to fill a position. We decided to try and think creatively to increase competiveness of immigrant job applicants.”

Among the assets of many immigrants, she said, is a knack to start businesses and take the risks inherent in doing so. But Harb and her colleagues couldn’t find existing programs in Michigan that responded to all the specific needs of entrepreneurial immigrants, such as help overcoming barriers of culture and language.

ACCESS, formerly known as the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, also secured a grant to get the entrepreneurial program started from the New Economy Initiative, a philanthropic endeavor that itself is funded with $100 million from 10 local and national foundations. The initiative’s goal is to help create an innovation-based economy in the Detroit area.

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