COVID wreaked havoc on Maine’s economy, but with the vaccine rollout well underway, it’s time to focus on our recovery. As small-business owners in Portland, we believe it’s vital to address the long-term consequences of our state’s aging population. We must take decisive steps to attract entrepreneurs and to ensure that our local companies have the workforce and skills they need to thrive.

Immigrants are far more likely to start a small business than the U.S. population overall, according to the immigration nonprofit New American Economy. M_Agency/Shutterstock.com

That’s why we recently joined 95 business and higher ed leaders in signing the Maine Compact on Immigration. This bipartisan initiative aims to attract and retain the foreign-born entrepreneurs and workers we need to grow new and existing businesses. As signatories, we’re asking Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King to publicly support new bills like the Dream and Promise Act and Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which make it easier for immigrants to contribute to our state.

When the virus hit last March, we felt heartbroken watching roughly 55 percent of our state’s businesses close. Those that managed to stay afloat saw an average 36 percent reduction in monthly revenue. Before COVID, small businesses accounted for 99.2 percent of all Maine businesses and employed 57.2 percent of all Mainers, according to the U.S. Small Business Association. In fact, firms with fewer than 20 employees are the state’s largest employers, responsible for 4,843 of the 5,924 new jobs that small businesses created here in 2019.

We will get back there, but we need the full participation and inclusion of immigrants and refugees to do it. Immigrants are far more likely to start a business than the U.S. population overall, according to the immigration nonprofit New American Economy. Their companies employ millions of Americans and generate $88.5 billion in revenue for the U.S. economy. Immigrants are also more likely to be of working age than native-born Americans. That’s crucial, because Maine is on track to lose 65,000 workers to retirement by 2029. To grow, our state needs to find 75,000 new workers in the same period.

Immigrants already play a significant role filling ongoing workforce shortages in our state’s health care and agriculture sectors, so we cannot afford to lose a single worker because of his or her legal status. That will only happen if Congress gives Dreamers, farmworkers and other immigrants who already reside and work in the state the security of permanent legal status through established processes. We applaud the House of Representatives for passing the Dream and Farm bills in March. But we cannot get these bills to the president’s desk without bipartisan support in the Senate. Passing them would certainly be a net positive. Our existing foreign-born population already generates $1.6 billion in income, $464.4 million of which they pay in taxes, according to New American Economy. With true security, they can participate more fully in the state’s economic development.

As immigrants and longtime small-business owners and leaders, we know firsthand the contributions that foreign-born newcomers bring to Maine. Between us, we are working tirelessly to bring high-speed fiber optic broadband to the entire state, provide micro-loans to immigrant business owners and are helping revive our state’s textile industry. Our businesses employ nearly 60 people. We are also nonprofit founders, who offer job training and small-business funding to underrepresented Mainers. As we focus tirelessly to build our businesses, we are dedicated to helping communities achieve success because of our fervent belief in equality and opportunity.

Immigrants like us will continue to be significant drivers of our economy; we are members of Maine society and in inclusion lies strength and sustainability. But first we have to enact policies that let immigrants fully participate in our workforce and communities. Newcomers must see Maine as a welcoming place where their families can thrive. The future of Maine is in our hands.


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