The following guest post from Philip Alexander originally appeared on the uschamber.com blog.
“Can you get to Cleveland tomorrow?” asked my former college roommate. “Sure!” I said, hanging up with him around 11:30 p.m. I was flat broke and had no idea how I would get from the University of Rochester to Case Western Reserve University, but I couldn’t let details get in the way. I had no money left to continue my education in the United States and Case was offering a few graduate assistantships that had no applicants. I liked my odds!
I came to the United States from India when I was 20, determined to obtain an education. I wasn’t going to let anything stand in the way of my dream. Hurriedly, I packed all my belongings into one suitcase and convinced a fellow foreign student to drive me to Cleveland. We left a little after 2:00 a.m. and arrived in Cleveland later that morning in May 1979.
I secured the graduate assistantship and completed my MBA. Like many foreign students in American universities, I admired immigrants who had struck out on their own and found success in the United States. The risks of starting a business in the United States seemed trivial when compared to the other risks that many of us had already taken: leaving our families behind and starting over in a new country.
After graduation, I worked in advertising for a large company but left after three years to start a market research business with another Case alumnus. I left that company for broader experiences in the corporate world, eventually landing senior positions with large retailers. I served as vice president of marketing and advertising for a subsidiary of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and then as vice president of brand management for Pearle Vision.
In 2000, I left the security of my corporate career to start Brandmuscle, a company focused on helping national brands build consistent brand equity in local markets by developing advertising tailored to communities surrounding their stores.
With limited staff and resources, the start of Brandmuscle remains memorable. I recall the day when the first dollar arrived, but there was little time to celebrate. A year later, the euphoria of the dotcom era quickly gave way to the “dotbomb.” Many highly-touted Internet companies failed. And September 11, 2001, became painfully personal for us as we lost a valued board member and advisor on American Airlines Flight #11. We were losing money and were emotionally exhausted. We could have decided to call it quits. But the ten or so Brandmuscle employees didn’t lose faith. We cut costs, buckled down, and began the process of building a company that today serves the biggest brands in America.
Today, Brandmuscle employs nearly 600 U.S.-based software and advertising professionals in Chicago, Cleveland, Austin, and Los Angeles. We have received recognition not only for our breakthrough technology platform and services, but also for our contributions to the communities in which we do business. From the start, we fostered a culture of community service across the organization, providing paid time off and financial support so that employees can follow their passion to give back to the community.
My personal journey was not unlike that of many other immigrants who strongly believe in the American Dream and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps.
I was fortunate to live out the dream of many American immigrants—past and present. Most of us recognize that the eventual rewards for taking risks in America are far greater than what is ever-possible elsewhere.
That explains why immigrants in the United States are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a business – they started 28% of all new U.S. businesses in 2011, despite accounting for just 12.9% of the U.S. population. And new businesses, not small established businesses, create most of the jobs.
After more than 30 years in the US, and as an American citizen for a few decades now, I believe we need to act immediately to recognize the notion that immigrants are key drivers of new business creation. It’s obvious – we need to have a strong comprehensive immigration policy that will help us create new jobs in America.