What would NYC do without immigrants?

A new report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli highlights the significant role immigrants play in the City’s economy.

According to the report, the immigrant business community added $210 billion to the city’s economy in 2011, nearly one-third of the gross city product. Just when the rest of the city struggled to recover from the recession, the immigrant workforce became stronger.

From 2000-2011, immigrants’ contributions to the economy grew by 63%, more than twice the inflation rate, according to the Comptroller’s report. The presence of immigrants in the labor force increased from 40% in 2000 to 44% in 2011. During the same period, the annual growth rate of immigrant wages stood at around 4%, outpacing that of non-immigrants.

The two boroughs with the largest increase in the number of immigrant businesses and population were Brooklyn and Queens, while the four fastest growing neighborhoods occurred among Queens immigrant neighborhoods Elmhurst/Corona, Jackson Heights, Sunnyside/Woodside. The only other neighborhood with substantial growth was Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, which is heavily Latino.

In addition, in 2011 more than half of the City’s immigrant population came from ten countries, including Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Ecuador.

The City’s corporate contributions also benefited from the immigrant workforce. This newspaper recently editorialized the state of small Latino business under the Bloomberg administration. We underscored the presence of the City’s 143,000 Latino small businesses and their significant $18 billion contribution to the local economy. Yet, for the last two years, the Small Business Survival Index has placed New York City in the 49 and 50 places, out of 50 states with the worst public policies for entrepreneurs.

Clearly, the City’s economy depends on immigrant businesses –perhaps more than immigrants depends on its public services.

With fewer resources and against many obstacles, immigrants have managed to thrive. The data alone makes the case for mayor-elect Bill de Blasio to create a Director of Diversity post. This new executive will create and oversee a plan to improve relations with immigrant small businesses, and create programs and incentives to for them.

We can capitalize on immigrant economic achievements, but lack of appropriate action and vision may endanger these important gains.

If we have achieved so much with so little, the next Administration should think about what they could accomplish if they hear the community and create policies that better assist the immigrant population and their goals.