Richard Florida is a co-founder and editor at large of CityLab and a senior editor at The Atlantic. He is a university professor in the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, and a distinguished fellow at New York University’s Schack Institute of Real Estate.
Immigrants and their offspring have built a remarkable proportion of America’s most successful companies, creating trillions of dollars in wealth.
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The study adds to the huge body of literature that shows that immigrants have long powered American science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial startup companies. Immigrants account for nearly two-thirds of all Nobel Prizes given to U.S.-based research, and make up huge shares of this country’s science and technology workforce. The U.S. would not have anything close to its current science and technology workforce without immigrants. And immigrants have played an outsize role in high-tech startup companies as well as their larger and more established Fortune 500 counterparts, as members of the founding teams of roughly one-third of all venture-backed companies and more than 40 percent of Silicon Valley high-tech startups.
While Trumpists claim that immigrants damage local economies, my own research shows just the opposite: Metros with higher shares of immigrants have higher rates of innovation, higher concentrations of high-tech business, higher incomes and wages, and more knowledge-based economies. The economies of leading metros like the San Francisco Bay Area, Miami, New York, L.A., Houston, Seattle, and D.C. are literally dependent on immigrants who make up large shares of their highly-educated and highly-skilled talent bases. Of course this is nothing new: Immigrants have driven the growth of America’s cities and regions for the past century or more.
And it’s not just these high-skill immigrants that have an economic impact. The children and grandchildren of less-skilled immigrants often become high-skilled immigrants. According to one study, some of the most successful foreign-born entrepreneurs were those who were brought here as children. Often, the parents of great entrepreneurs are not high-skill programmers with multiple degrees. Rather, they these future entrepreneurs more closely resemble today’s DREAMers. Surely a handful of them will go on to start successful companies, creating countless jobs in the process.
No matter the psychological salve they might provide for anxious and resentful members of the white working class, anti-immigrant policies are actually harmful to everyone. Immigrants of all skill levels are essential not only for creating and sustaining big companies, but for building thriving metro economies. As I have noted in CityLab, the places with greater immigrant diversity are better off economically in the short, medium, and long term. The economics of immigration are so clear, it is laughable that the nominally pro-business Republican party has embraced such draconian measures. Stymieing immigration will only set the “forgotten” parts of America back even further.