Report: Immigrant-owned business helps revive economy

8:14 PM, Dec 27, 2012   |    comments
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - A new report finds minorities now account for more than half of Minnesota's population growth over the past decade, and as a result, immigrant entrepreneurs are helping revive the state's economy.

Minnesota 2020, a St. Paul-based think tank, finds Minnesota immigrants also account for nearly 40 percent of business start-ups around the state.

"The more activity generated by new Minnesotans, the more they interact with the old Minnesotans, people with names such as mine," said Lee Egerstrom, author of Made in Minnesota 2012: Building Cross-Cultural Commerce.

The report found the success of immigrant owned businesses sparks an upward economic stability, with Minnesota's ethnic purchasing power estimated at nearly 12 billion dollars, at the very least.

"The convergence of economic activity is creating spurts of activity. We start learning new tastes, new flavors, we start trying new products and going to each others' restaurants and grocery stores," said Egerstrom.

That's exactly Abdirahman Kahin's vision. Born in Somalia, raised in Djibouti, and now a proud Minnesota entrepreneur, he dreamed of an African restaurant catered especially for the American palate.

He opened Afro Deli and Coffee two years ago with a menu to tempt the mainstream, what he calls Afro fusion, with inspirations of American, Latino and Asian food.

"I think good food can bring people together regardless of their color, ethnicity or race. I think that is what is bringing variety to the diverse community," said Kahin.

Egerstrom says yesterday's Scandinavian immigrants are now working with new immigrants, citing a Welcome, Minnesota company, Whole Grain Milling, that manufactures specialty flour just for Ethopian and African breads, and is sold in African grocery stores and markets.

Another example can be found at the Shega bakery business on Franklin Avenue, which makes injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, and now stocks the popular bread at several metro area Cub Foods.

Minnesota 2020 found one big missed opportunity for growth, saying in Minnesota's land of food companies and agriculture, Minnesota should start manufacturing halal meats for the Islamic community.

"This is a land of food companies and abundant agriculture. Great opportunities exist for this food industry and serve this growing population. We don't. We have the capacity and capability for doing this for an enormous population," said Egerstrom.

But, the growing taste for cross cultural commerce is evident during lunch hour at Afro Deli, where the line stretched nearly out the door.

"I highly recommend it, I will come back here again for sure," said Patti Pieper, of New Brighton, who came to the restaurant for the first time.

Kahin has 11 employees, but next says he hopes to start planning a franchise to continue and help feed the local economy.

"We are in Minnesota to stay forever, so it is our duty to be a part of the economy," said Kahin.

View Minnesota 2020's entire report here.

(Copyright 2012 by KARE. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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