Like many Hispanics, my father possessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit. At the age of 21, he immigrated to the United States from Cuba and then served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After the war, he landed himself a job in the New York Times’ newsroom research department, where he worked for 40 years. At the department’s peak, he had a staff of 35 researchers working for him, and he was one of the highest-ranking Hispanics at the newspaper at his retirement.
My father instilled a sense of ambition in all three of his children. Both of my siblings are successful entrepreneurs, and as president of Robinson Aerial, I oversee an engineering and mapping firm with more than $3 million in annual revenue.
My family is an example of a Hispanic family who moved to the United States, established roots and flourished. However, our immigration policies make it difficult for many foreign-born individuals to build lives and businesses on American soil.
There is no visa for foreign entrepreneurs who want to start a company in the United States, and only 7 percent of green cards go to immigrants for workforce needs, one of the lowest rates of economic-based immigration in the world. These policies are not in America’s best interest — new businesses create jobs and spur economic growth. We need immigration reform that encourages the contributions of hardworking individuals.
Hispanic immigrants have much to offer the U.S. economy. Two years ago, I became the chairman of the Statewide Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey. We are the voice of 70,000 Hispanic business owners who contribute $10 billion annually to New Jersey’s economy.
Our substantial economic impact is unsurprising given recent findings on Hispanic entrepreneurship. According to the Partnership for a New American Economy, between 1990 and 2012, the number of Hispanic immigrant entrepreneurs more than quadrupled, going from 321,000 to 1.4 million. During this period, Hispanics added entrepreneurs almost 10 times faster than the overall U.S. population. Clearly, Hispanics are major players in America’s business sector.
As SHCCNJ chairman, I meet many Hispanic entrepreneurs. Carlos Vega, whose parents emigrated from Spain and Cuba, left his job on Wall Street to take over the pizzeria he worked at throughout high school. After selling the restaurant, Carlos and his wife started selling the pizzeria’s popular tomato sauce. Today the sauce — Jersey Italian Gravy — is in more than 300 stores.
Juan Zaldivar, co-owner of Lola’s Latin Bistro of Metuchen, barely spoke English when he moved from Mexico City to New Jersey at 28. He started off working as a busboy at a small Italian restaurant owned by Nick Borzone, and within six months, he was cooking and waiting tables. Four years later, Borzone offered Zaldivar a partnership, and the two have been running restaurants together since. On a typical Saturday, Lola’s feeds 200 customers. The restaurant employs 15 individuals and brings in more than $750,000 annually.
Immigrant business owners not only add jobs and revenue, but they also invigorate communities by investing in businesses and homes, paying taxes and attracting residents. The Partnership found that the average immigrant who moves to a community raises the total value of housing wealth by $92,800.