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Immigrants Own Most Staten Island Businesses, Report Says

By Nicholas Rizzi | August 1, 2012 9:42am

STATEN ISLAND — The number of small businesses started by foreign born Staten Islanders has exceeded the amount owned by native born residents, according to the Center for an Urban Future.

In the borough, 11.9 percent of immigrants are self-employed, nearly double the 6.9 percent of native born Staten Islanders who are self-employed.

The island has the second highest rate of self employed immigrants citywide, with Manhattan at the top with nearly 13 percent, according to the Center for an Urban Future which held a panel discussion on the island Tuesday.

"This is a great opportunity for Staten Island," said Jonathan Bowles, executive director of the Manhattan based think-tank.

"We need to make sure that this is a part of the economy, strongly supported, and that it can grow."

To help continue the growth, the Center for an Urban Future and the Fund for Public Advocacy hosted a public forum at the College of Staten Island, Willowbrook, on Tuesday to address some challenges immigrant and minority business owners face and ways to help them navigate through them.

"I think all small business owners on Staten Island face a lot of challenges," Bowles said. "It's not easy to operate a small business in the city, and a lot of minority and foreign born face some unique hurdles."

Foreign born residents now make up 20% of Staten Island's population, the Center for an Urban Future said.

Councilwoman Debi Rose, who spoke at the forum, said that with many of them creating their own jobs, there needs to be more ways to help their businesses get off the ground.

"This is going to be a part of the economic growth of our communities," Rose said. "We need to help foster that so that we all win in the long run."

For some small business owners, the language barrier becomes a large hurdle, Bowles said.

"I think sometimes the language barrier could be a big issue," he said.

"A lot of minority and immigrants don't go to seek the assistance from the small business assistance organizations that are out there."

Some may even accidentally break a specific regulation that they are unaware of because of the language, Bowles said.

Rose added that many feel there needs to be a mentoring program set up for successful entrepreneurs to teach new business owners.

"They get the technical knowledge but then you need someone who's experienced it to help you sort of guide you through," Rose said.

But for some during the panel discussion, one of the biggest problems was not enough people outside of the borough being aware of businesses here.

"We don't promote Staten Island well enough," said Wayne Roye, owner of Troi.net, an IT firm based in Staten Island for small and medium businesses.

"I always felt like it was the forgotten borough," Roye said.

Rose said she agreed that the Island could use more promotion and suggested more campaigns to raise awareness of the diversity of the borough and the businesses that are unique to the Island.

"People have no idea about the riches and the resources that we have here," she said. "We need market our diversity on Staten Island. It would help all of our businesses."

Rose added that the borough has the largest population of Sri Lankan and Liberian residents outside of those countries, and people are not aware of the great restaurants and businesses owned by them.

Tuesday's discussion was the last in a series of borough-wide forums hosted by the Center for An Urban Future and the Fund for Public Advocacy.

"I'm very pleased with the five borough forum series we had," Bowles said. "We just elevated this issue onto the radar of policy makers and economic development officials."

The Center for an Urban Future will publish a report about the findings they found through the forums in the Fall, Bowles said.