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ON March 3, I announced three new steps to make it easier for immigrant-owned businesses to start and grow in New York City:

a business plan competition for innovative strategies to provide assistance to immigrant entrepreneurs; new, free NYC Business Solution courses in Chinese, Korean, Spanish and Russian; and a business expo to showcase locally-based immigrant food manufacturing businesses and link them to consumers nationwide.

The initiatives are a result of a yearlong series of roundtables with community groups and are part of the city’s agenda to support immigrant communities and empower them to grow and create jobs.

I announced the initiatives at a Center for Migration Studies and Levin Institute conference on U.S. immigration reform at the Levin Institute in Manhattan.

Immigrant entrepreneurs and the businesses they launch have long been drivers of innovation and enterprise in New York City and across America.

We need the Federal government to fix our immigration system, but New York City can’t afford to wait.

We are taking another step to help our economy by promoting immigrants enterprise and entrepreneurship across our five boroughs.

New York City’s immigrant population has more than doubled since 1970 — from roughly 1.4 million to 3 million — and immigrants now represent nearly 40 percent of the city’s population and 43 percent of the city’s labor force.

Immigrants are a significant and important piece of the city’s entrepreneurial economy:

Immigrants make up 49 percent of all self-employed workers in the city compared to 25 percent in New York State and only 12 percent in the U.S.

Despite their large numbers, immigrant businesses face serious challenges.

Immigrants nationwide lag behind native-born entrepreneurs in terms of longevity of business operations, with a smaller proportion of immigrant owned businesses operating more than 42 months compared to non-immigrants businesses.

The immigrant entrepreneur support competition, a joint-effort of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, will challenge entrants to propose innovative, scalable ideas to assist immigrant entrepreneurs.

Participants will be invited to submit business plans for ventures that would address concerns of immigrant entrepreneurs like access to credit, financial management, language barriers, or access to business networks.

Five plans will be selected and each awarded seed funding of up to $25,000 to pilot their program.

After the pilot period, the program recognized as the most scalable and sustainable by a panel of judges will be selected as the winner and receive funding of up to $100,000 to further scale their program.

The judging panel will be comprised of members of academia, city agencies, nonprofits and business leaders.

The Department of Small Business Services’ NYC Business Solutions Centers offer free courses to small businesses to help them develop the skills they need to launch, operate and expand.

Today, the courses are taught primarily in English, with some available in Spanish and a few in Mandarin and Russian.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation will join with the Department of Small Business Services, the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and several community-based organizations, including Baruch College, GrowNYC, Make the Road New York, and Renaissance Economic Development Corporation, to offer recurring courses in Chinese, Korean and Russian, and additional courses in Spanish.

The community-based organizations will provide space and instructors to teach the courses to members of each targeted community.

It is anticipated that the pilot program will serve hundreds of immigrant entrepreneurs over the next 12 months.

The New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Department of Small Business Services will work with Baruch College, the Pratt Center for Community Development, and the South Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation to establish and manage a pilot business expo on May 25, 2011 for locally-based immigrant food manufacturing businesses to showcase their products.

Within New York City’s food manufacturing industry, 70 percent of the employees are foreign-born.

Technical assistance will be provided to each of the participating businesses in order to help them refine their pitch and prepare for professional trade show events.

At the end of the event, six companies will be selected to attend the National Association of Specialty Food Trade Fancy Food Show or Kosherfest — two of the largest national trade shows in the region — in a booth subsidized by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

The initiative will build upon existing city programs to help food manufacturers such as the kitchen incubator at La Marqueta and the Entrepreneur’s Space in Long Island City.