Last year, Carlos Medina, the president of Robinson Aerial Surveys and the chairman of the 2,500-member Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey, was part of a trade delegation to Cuba. While there, he took the opportunity to stroll along the Havana waterfront, and see the house, a stone’s throw from the storied Hotel Nacional, where his father had grown up before fleeing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1952. “He came to the U.S. seeking new opportunities, with $10 in his pocket,” Medina recalls. He earned his citizenship by fighting in the Korean War and then talked his way into a job as a clerk at the New York Times. By the time he retired, Medina’s father had become the director of the newspaper’s archival research department and picture library, with 40 people working under him, and had shaken hands with a string of former presidents and celebrities who had come to use the newspaper’s archives.
Medina himself has been equally successful. After a career as a corporate lawyer, he took over Robinson Aerial, which now boasts 30 employees and more than $4 million in annual sales, and he grew the Hispanic Chamber into what is likely the largest chamber in New Jersey. He credits much of his success to his father’s example and influence, noting that his two siblings are also successful entrepreneurs and business leaders.
Immigrant entrepreneurs are starting businesses at times when others are unwilling, because they’ll take a chance..and that, in turn, is helping the New Jersey economy.
Medina says the determination, ambition, and business savvy that his father taught his children is precisely what the current generation of immigrants bring to America–and why so many entrepreneurs are foreign-born. “Immigrant entrepreneurs are starting businesses at times when others are unwilling, because they’ll take a chance, and start a business rather than take a wage below their skill level,” he says. Someone who’s worked as a lawyer or a doctor in their home country won’t be happy to spend their life washing dishes in America, and will soon start looking for ways to improve their situation, he explains. “They want to be their own boss, and that, in turn, is helping the New Jersey economy,” he says.
Instead of allowing immigration policy to be driven by emotions, Medina says, we need a more rational approach that recognizes the value that immigrants bring to the country. At Robinson Aerial, for example, it’s sometimes necessary to recruit from overseas in order to fill highly skilled, tech-related positions. “When there’s a high-tech job opening, you can place an ad and hear crickets,” Medina says. Only by hiring immigrants has Medina been able to meet his company’s needs — but the visa system for skilled workers makes it harder than necessary for many firms to meet their labor needs. “It’s a lot of paperwork,” he says.
Medina says comprehensive reforms are vital to address “a labor shortage at both ends of the spectrum,” with guest-worker programs for less-skilled workers, a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants, and a more streamlined visa system for skilled workers, entrepreneurs, and foreign investors. “All these people are benefiting the economy in one way or another,” Medina says. “We need them all if we want the economy to grow.”