Local efforts to help immigrant entrepreneurs

10:49 PM, Jan 28, 2013   |    comments
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By Art Holliday

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Grants, micro-loans and a regional task force. Those are among the tools the St. Louis region is using to help immigrants who hope to create jobs.

Artificial intelligence scientist Arnoldo Muller has created a sophisticated search engine, "that can give you predictions or complex analysis that's not available with current technology, at very high speeds," said Muller.

Muller planned to start his company, simMachines, his native Costa Rica until he learned of a startup competition by Arch Grants of St. Louis, worth $50,000 if he moved his company to St. Louis.

"Immigrants are twice as likely to become entrepreneurs and Arnoldo is a great example," said Dr. Jack Strauss, an economist at St. Louis University. Strauss last year wrote a paper, "The Economic Impact of Immigration on St. Louis."

Strauss' study is the foundation of Immigration Innovation, a regional task force developing strategies for attracting highly skilled immigrants to St. Louis.

"St. Louis has the lowest proportion of immigrants of a top 20 city, but also we have a scarcity of small businesses and the two are not separate," said Strauss. "Unlike the east and west coasts, we don't have a lot of immigrants and our population is declining. So the region's businesses want to hire immigrants because they are a good part of the workforce as well as they buy our products, they pay taxes, they fill our schools. So without immigrants, what happens is a city like St. Louis is like Detroit, like Cleveland, the population declines, the airports struggle."

Nsengi Bertrand, a refugee from Tanzania, owns two cabs. He obtained a microloan from the International Institute St. Louis which provides loans up to $35,000 to low and moderate income immigrants and refugees.

"We're able to give loans to people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get loans with regular banks," said Kathleen Delpha, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Development Services for the International Institute St. Louis. "Our clients receive an average of 14 hours a year of technical assistance, and so what that translates into is that we have a really high success rate with the businesses that we help start. Eighty percent of the businesses that we started three years ago are still in business today."

Whether it's a grant competition, the international institute, or a city county task force, St. Louis is attempting to emulate other cities who've aggressively tried to attract immigrants. Arnoldo Muller hopes to take advantage.

"The grant has helped me a lot. All the people around here, they are very excited about what we do," said Muller. "They love their own city and they want to make it bigger and better."



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