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Monday, July 6, 2015

When it comes to Africans in Minnesota, the numbers might lie - TwinCities.com

When it comes to Africans in Minnesota, the numbers might lie - TwinCities.com

Economist Bruce Corrie has seen the official U.S. Census counts of African immigrants in Minnesota, and he doesn't believe them for a minute. Census estimates showing 111,000 people of recent African origin might as well be doubled, based on his research. The federal Survey of Business Owners and the Consumer Expenditure Surveys don't even mention the state's African business owners and customers. For anyone trying to market products to or do business with the dozens of African immigrant groups in Minnesota, that adds up to a void of information circling a deep undercount, from his perspective. His perspective is shared by any number of the state's African immigrant business and civic leaders.
Urgo Kadir, an immigrant from Ethiopia, happily twirls her flag as she talks to a friend before a naturalization ceremony March 2, 2012, at Willey Hall on
Kehinde Odusote, president of the West African Collaborative and an organizer with the Minnesota Institute for Nigerian Development, said she's often taken aback when Minnesotans assume the African continent is a single country, instead of 54 individual nations. "I would rejoice the day I hear of a trade mission go to any country in Africa," she said. To get a better grasp on some hard numbers, Corrie, a professor of economics at Concordia University in St. Paul, set out to distribute 600 surveys hand in hand with 40 African cultural organizations and business representatives in Minnesota. What he found after six months of field research shocked him, despite his many years of close working relationships with the state's African immigrant community.Funded by the McKnight Foundation, Corrie's 45-page study was released in late May at the Snelling Cafe, a small Snelling Avenue diner, before a crowd of representatives from immigrant cultural organizations. According to "The Economic Potential of African Immigrants in Minnesota": -- Minnesota's African immigrants hail from 25 of Africa's 54 countries, but mainstream institutions and political outreach are not reaching them effectively. -- The African immigrant population donates $14 million annually to philanthropic causes in Minnesota, on top of $150 million in annual remittances sent home to friends and family back in Africa. -- Minnesota's African immigrants have a collective income of at least $1.6 billion, half of which is concentrated in the metro. That includes roughly $200 million in St. Paul and $300 million in Minneapolis alone. -- It remains unclear how many of the 12,000 black-owned businesses in Minnesota are owned by African immigrants, but Corrie's best guess lands between 2,200 to 3,200. About 10 percent of survey respondents reported owning a home-based business. -- African women in particular have shown a strong entrepreneurial presence, and business and community members reported feeling optimistic about the future. -- The African immigrant population is politically active. Corrie said 70 percent of his survey respondents said they voted and were active in institutions around them, from their child's school to volunteerism at cultural events. -- African immigrants pay at least $183 million in state and local taxes in Minnesota. -- African immigrant communities tend to be located along major transit corridors, though they're not always tuned into route maps or the potential benefits of ridership. Of those who regularly use public transit, 80 percent voted. Between groceries, apparel, travel services, auto services, health care and the like, Corrie believes the "African market" in Minnesota represents about $281 million in goods and services from ethnic businesses.
Abdalla Bashaewuth, 34, White Bear Lake, salutes during the National Anthem during a naturalization ceremony Sept. 6, 2012, at the Minneapolis Convention
African immigrants are spending an additional $500 million or more in mainstream stores.
"For every $1 they spend after taxes, 55 cents is on mainstream stores, 28 cents on African stores and 15 cents supporting family and relatives in Africa," Corrie said. "The money they send to Africa they do not get a tax break on, like most people making donations in this country. It is at a great personal cost, especially if they earn less than $40,000 a year." Mesfin Negia, a biology professor and vice president of the Ethiopian Community in Minnesota, hoped that Corrie's report would help dispel negative assumptions about his community. "We're not takers," said Negia, addressing the crowd at the Snelling Cafe during the recent presentation last May. "We are hard workers. Please see us as an asset." The same sentiment was shared by Abdullah Kiatamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services in Brooklyn Park. "We're not just a drain on the economy, a problem to be solved," he said. "We're solution makers." To get his data, Corrie's consumer surveys reached more than 500 immigrants, and a separate business survey went out to 123 business owners. To distribute surveys, get help with translation, and for research and technical assistance, he counted on the help of more than 40 community partners, from the Oromo Chamber of Commerce to the Minnesota African Women's Association. His response rate was little short of exceptional, with 402 of the consumer surveys and 113 of the business surveys fully completed. He also relied on an online exit poll from the November 2014 election, as well as a small storm of existing federal and local studies. His study raises questions about ethnic business owners oversaturating the African market with the same product rather than diversifying and exploring new goods and services. Many Asian stores sell products popular with African immigrants, as well. Another interesting statistic: More than 10 percent of survey respondents said they ran a home-based business. The study notes that is key evidence that the immigrant community would benefit from entrepreneurial education and programs for youth, such as business incubators, commercial kitchens "and other avenues to support this vibrant entrepreneurial energy." Corrie's study notes the "untapped potential" for Minnesotan exports to African countries and points out that the African community would benefit from new lending models, such as community loan pools. The study also provides insights for realtors: African immigrants represent an estimated $236 million annual rental market in Minnesota, and homeowners represented real estate values of $1.2 billion in 2012. As for Census counts, Corrie feels they're garbage-bin worthy based on his own research and education data. The U.S. Census' American Community Survey estimated the Somali population in Minnesota to be between 39,000 and 52,000 people in 2013, including foreign-born immigrants and their descendants. "Because of language barriers and concerns over the use of the survey, immigrant groups are often undercounted," said Andi Egbert, assistant director for the Minnesota State Demographic Center. "So these are likely conservative estimates, but the best we have." Community advocates say a truer estimate would land somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000. Corrie has his own estimates. The Minnesota Department of Education reports that in the 2012-2013 school year, there were nearly 15,000 Somali-speaking children in the state's K-12 public school system alone. "The Census undercounts the Somali schoolchildren by about a third," Corrie said. "So if we say the overall population could also be undercounted by a third, I would get around 50,000 (Somalis and their descendants in Minnesota), which we could call a conservative estimate." "Other African communities also report underrepresentation in census numbers," he continued. "Because of this, their access to resources and services are limited."

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