For Karla Boldery, a Mexican immigrant and business coach, how to make business development easier for immigrants is the million-dollar question. How to improve immigration reform, she says, is “the twenty-million-dollar question.”
For the past seven years, Boldery has worked in innovation and technology business development. She received a degree in business administration from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, in Mexico, before meeting her American husband and enrolling at Northern Kentucky University. There she received a Master of Business Informatics degree, which focuses on using advanced information technology systems within a business environment.
In addition to coaching developing businesses about their technology needs, she advises several community programs that work with small business owners and immigrants, including the Small Business Development Center and the Hispanic Chamber of Cincinnati. This work has an important economic impact in the city.
There are a lot of people here that have a great economic capacity, but they’re not doing it because of immigration regulations.
According to research from New American Economy, the foreign-born population of metro Cincinnati made up 3.5 percent of the population in 2012 and held more than$1.5 billion in spending power. Immigrants comprise 7.9 percent of all business owners in the area and 21 percent of Main Street business owners. In fact, between 2000 and 2013, foreign-born business owners accounted for all of the growth in the metro’s Main Street businesses.
But Boldery believes immigrants represent even more untapped potential. “There are a lot of people here that have a great economic capacity, but they’re not doing it because of immigration regulations,” she says.
Much of Boldery’s work involves helping clients address their business needs. She says that finding business development resources is one of the biggest challenges local immigrants face. The Cincinnati area has many organizations to help immigrants, but they are disconnected from each other and often poorly advertised. Some people — bank officers who issue small business loans, for example — simply don’t realize that immigrants have a strong track record as business owners. As a result of this unconscious bias, immigrants may lack the full or correct information they need to succeed.
Regulations can also impose challenges for immigrant business developers. “Many businesses, especially the skilled trades, are regulated and they might request citizenship information for the business owner to operate,” says Boldery. “Sometimes the citizenship process might be a multi-year process. This definitely hinders the ability for many immigrants to start and run their own business.”
Boldery would like to see both the network of resources and the business regulation processes streamlined so people can get the help they need when they need it. She would also like to see immigration reform that is less burdened by complicated overregulation. Boldery favors offering a clear path to citizenship for those already in the United States. She believes this would not only help them bolster their spending power but would also spur economic growth in their communities. “There has to be a way for them to be here, lawfully engaging economically to the advantage of everybody,” she says.