Which Resources Can Immigrant Businesses Find in Charlotte?

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Alexis Gordon, the International Relations Manager and the Chief of Protocol for the City of Charlotte, discusses the services that Charlotte offers for immigrant businesses, specifically the Immigrant Integration Task Force.

AB- Andrew Bowen               AG- Alexis Gordon

AB: Good morning, Charlotte. For those of you just now tuning into our podcast, I’m Andrew Bowen, and I am the host of CBR’s B2U Podcast, bringing business resources directly to you. To find archived podcasts and more business resources, be sure to check out CBRbiz.com.

If you’re a small business owner, you likely began your business on the local level, starting with your city and then expanding through your state. Maybe your business has even grown to the national level. But what happens when you want to expand your business across more than state lines? What happens when you want your business to expand across oceans?

If you go to your Google search bar right now and begin typing the words “doing business”, one of the first search suggestions to pop up is “doing business internationally”. This is a much sought after topic, and we’re glad to hopefully get some questions answered for you over the next few podcasts. With us today is Alexis Gordon, the International Relations Manager at the City of Charlotte. Thanks for being here, Alexis.

AG: Thanks for having me.

AB: Anytime. So I know we go way back, way back. But can you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself?

AG: Yes, I’d be happy to. I’m the International Relations Manager and also the Chief of Protocol for the City of Charlotte. I help when we have guests come in from different countries learn about our city, meet our elected officials, get familiar with how our form of government works. But I also help people that move here, that are coming here with companies that might be from Germany, that are coming here with companies that might be from China. How do they do business while they’re in the United States? I can help them with that. Additionally, we also help a lot with our new Americans, our immigrants that are coming from other countries that are moving to Charlotte to live here forever, and help them become entrepreneurs, and help them start businesses. And that is what we do in my office.

AB: That’s great. So before we get into doing business internationally, can we discuss a little bit the services that Charlotte offers for immigrant businesses? Let’s start by talking about the Immigrant Integration Task Force. What exactly is that?

AG: Well, the task force was created by City Council and the Mayor’s office roughly two-and-a-half years ago now. And that group was put together with a bunch of different agencies across the city and in our region, and so we had groups like the Latin American Coalition, and we had groups like the different Chambers that were involved. We went out into the community, and we listened to what are the needs of both immigrants coming into Charlotte and also the receiving community, Charlotteans who have been here. What are some of the barriers that they’ve run into working with our immigrants? And out of that, we worked on for about a year, just listening to people and finding out what their needs were. And then the task force came together for roughly six months to look at what those needs were and distill them into 27 recommendations. And some of these, you’re like, “Wow, a year, and you only have 27 recommendations?” It actually took a long time to narrow it down.

AB: Well, and 27 is a lot.

AG: Yes, 27 really is a lot. And a lot of them have sub-recommendations on top of that. So they would say something across the board that said, “Encourage naturalization and citizenship.” But then within that, they would tell you different things that we might do to do that.

AB: So did some of these recommendations have…Are they categorized at all into certain groups?

AG: Yeah, they’re categorized into a bunch of different groups. One of the biggest bulks of them was actually about, “How do we help support small business growth?” And out of that, we had six recommendations that were specific to economic development.

AB: That’s great. Now I know that was only, I think, if my math was right, six or seven. So what were some of the top ones?

AG: Some of the top ones were, “How do we increase small business certification from immigrant owned businesses? How do we make sure that they know about Charlotte Business Resources? How do we help people find what the resources are that are here?” And actually, if you looked at those recommendations, a lot of them weren’t just about the immigrant community in itself, but were about the whole ecosystem with small business in Charlotte. And how do we integrate people into that system so that we’re making sure that everyone has equal access to the wonderful resources we provide as a city?

AB: That makes sense. So it was a real holistic look at immigrants, immigrant businesses, and then also how they work with the existing businesses and people here.

AG: Right.

AB: Right, so it was cultural and business, and then everything else in between.

AG: Exactly. How do you mix those things? How do you take different cultures and really help them understand what Charlotte culture is like? Our culture is different than, say, Chicago. And so we have a lot of immigrants that their first time living in the U.S. might have been New York City, might have been San Francisco, might have been Des Moines. And when they move to Charlotte, things are done a little differently here. And so we want to make sure that not just for our immigrants but for anyone who is a new Charlottean, that they know where to find things, and that they know how to become involved so that we have the best system possible for our small businesses to be supported.

AB: That’s great. So I know you mentioned we’re a little bit different from other cities. Obviously, we’re not Chicago, New York, or Atlanta. But if I remember correctly, a few months ago The Pew Research Center just released its updated list of gateway cities, and Charlotte is now a little bit larger in their eyes with the number of immigrants coming through. Is that correct?

AG: That’s correct. So with the new census data and the new sample data that’s been out, they’ve readjusted our growth rate for the immigrant population. Currently, we have what’s considered roughly 15% of our population is foreign-born. So 15% of the people that live in Charlotte were born in another country and have moved here since then. And when the Pew is looking at, “What are new immigrant gateways?”…so when we talk about immigrant gateways, we think of places like New York City. People move from China to Chinatown. Or, there are families who have histories that started in Little Italy after their family moved here from Sicily. Well, we don’t have those places in Charlotte. We’re much more of that mixed salad type of community. Immigrants live all over the community. They look for the same things we look for: good schools, nice home, the quality of life that they want to see. And I know you know a lot about quality of life.

AB: Yes, thank you for making sure I can get my plug for the Quality of Life Explorer in here. I didn’t plant this one, everyone, I promise. Quality of Life Explorer.

AG: Yeah, because we go way back.

AB: Yeah, we go way back with that.

AG: So it really is about that to everybody, no matter where you come from in the world. When you come to Charlotte, you’re looking for certain parts of what you love. So, where you’re going to start your family, where you’re going to start your business. And because people settle in a very different pattern, we’re called what is now called a new immigrant gateway. And new immigrant gateways mean that we don’t settle in the same patterns, and that people come here for different reasons. And often, a very wide variety of reasons. We have people that are here for economic reasons. We have people that are here because they have family members that moved here, moved here for education reasons, and others who’ve come here as refugees and and asylees as well, and so we have that huge mix. And so the Pew, when they re-did their new immigrant gateway system, they bumped us up a level, so we’re now considered a major emerging. We were just considered an emerging, but now we’re a major emerging immigrant center in the United States.

AB: That’s super, and it sounds like the timing of the Immigrant Integration Task Force just was absolutely perfect considering this change and all of the various reasons that people are coming here.

AG: It really was. It was just the perfect timing. We started our program with the task force about the same time as there was a welcoming movement across the United States that also started. So there’s an organization called Welcoming America, which the City of Charlotte is partnered with, and they are looking at all the different cities in the U.S., and how all of our communities are changing, and how we have such a much more mobile community now as a country. And people might be born in one state and move to another, or be born in another country and then move to the United States, and so how do we make sure that we are showing that southern hospitality that we’re well known for?

AB: Yes, we are. Well, great. Alexis, I think that’s all the time we have for today. Do you have anything else you’d like to add before we go?

AG: I’m really happy to see everything continue to change and grow in our city, and I believe that this will help us be known in other places in the world, and help us expand and broaden our horizons for businesses. Because if someone moves here from Stuttgart, they’ll talk to their family back home and tell them about the people that they’re doing business with in Charlotte, and that can help it even for our native-grown businesses.

AB: Yeah. You heard it here first, world. Charlotte is a great place to live.

AG: Mm-hmm.

AB: Right? All right, listeners, this was part one of a three-part podcast series with Alexis Gordon of the City of Charlotte. Up next, we’ll be discussing the IESBO meeting, so stay tuned. For more information about CBR or resources offered by the City of Charlotte, visit cbrbiz.com. Thanks for tuning in to the CBR B2U podcast, presented by cbrbiz.com. Until next time, we mean business.

Have a question for Alexis or a member from our team? Tweet them to us @CBRBiz! And be sure to browse the Charlotte Business Resources site to find the business resources you need, from starting to growing. 

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