© 2024 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Immigrant Entrepreneurs Make Their Mark On Ohio's Economy

Jeff St. Clair
Radhika Reddy, the founder of the Ariel Center in Cleveland, immigrated to Ohio in 1989.

Radhika Reddy always wanted more. The Cleveland businesswoman was never really satisfied with the life India had to offer.

“In India, some people prefer a very submissive, stay at home type wife,” Reddy says. “I’m not that type.”

In 1989, Reddy came to the U.S. to get an MBA from Case Western Reserve University. Even though she graduated at the top of her class, she struggled finding a place that would hire her.

“I mean, after I got my master's and my MBA from Case, I was one of the top 1 percent of students, and 90 percent of the companies wouldn’t hire," she says. "I had a international banking background, but none of the banks would touch foreign students. I offered to work for free. So I was pretty close to going back to India because I couldn’t find a job.”

Once she found a job – $15,000 a year to work at a small company – it didn’t take her long to adjust. A month after she got her green card in 1995, she started her own consulting business, later named Ariel Ventures LLC.

Immigrants make up about 4 percent of Ohio’s population, but contribute more than 5 percent of the state’s taxes and start businesses more than twice as frequently as native citizens. This motivation comes from the need many immigrants feel to not only survive, but to thrive. 

In 2010, Reddy and her newfound partners created the Ariel Center, a one-stop shop for international newcomers to develop businesses, find employment, and host cultural events. Now, she’s the founder of five different business ventures.

Her story is not unique. Inna Kinney immigrated from the former Soviet Union with her family at the age of 11. After watching her father work hard at a low-paying job to support her family, she started her own business, the Economic Community Development Institute, which provides microloans for immigrants and others who need help.

“The best of the best make it to the United States,” Kinney says. “It is a struggle in itself to get to this country, and we have to recognize that and understand that these people are very entrepreneurial, they’re fighters, and when they get here they’re going to make it work.”

A 2018 Cleveland State University study found that while only 27 percent of native-born Americans in Ohio have a bachelor’s degree, 42 percent of foreign-born Ohioans have a four-year degree or higher.

Former Cleveland City council member Joe Cimperman is now the president of Global Cleveland, an organization that seeks to attract and welcome immigrants to the country. For him, it’s personal: His mom was from Slovenia.

“Innovations, employment opportunities, ideas come from people coming from all over the world, and what we’re trying to do is make it easier and not harder to get here and to stay here,” Cimperman says.

Cimperman says having a rich immigrant community helps the region in other ways besides economics. Not only does the Cleveland Statestudy show that immigrants go to college more than native-born citizens, they also divorce less and contribute more than their share in taxes.

Though immigrants nationwide only make up 13 percent of the population, they contribute 15 percent of the country’s total economic input, 16 percent of the labor force, and 18 percent of all small businesses owners.

Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich established Ohio’s Office for Opportunities for New Americans, which was designed to encourage business development among immigrants.

Padmini Roy-Dixon, an Indian immigrant, is head of the program. She says it’s important that Ohio takes its immigrants seriously and provides them with help along the way.

“If we can make even that little bit of difference in someone’s life, to make it easier for him or her to find a job, or to learn English or access GED classes or get training,” Roy-Dixon says. “Any kind of impact that we can make happen to create a better life? That would be success.”

In a time where tensions surrounding immigration are heightened due to the current administration’s crackdown on immigration, the Office for Opportunities For New Americans sets itself apart as an ally.

Reddy says that welcoming people from other countries is crucial to the success of the American economy.

“I think immigrants come with a great entrepreneurial ability to combine the best of both countries. You’d lose the connectivity,” she says. “I mean, look at the U.S. It’s so connected globally because immigrants tend to somehow figure out a way to connect to their country.”

It’s a community that fought to get here, and they want to make it count.

Emma Keating is a junior journalism major with a minor in political science. Between working for the Kent Stater, TV2 and Cleveland Magazine, she has experience in newspaper, magazine, multimedia and broadcast journalism, though writing will always be her one true love. Keating hopes to use her journalism to give a voice to the voiceless in her future career, eventually moving to Washington, D.C.