Although Utah is traditionally conservative, lawmakers and residents have, in recent years, begun to recognize the value that immigrants add to their local communities and economies. In 2010, Utah residents, business owners, activists, law enforcement officials, and religious leaders came together to write the Utah Compact, a declaration calling for comprehensive immigration reform. This document is intended to streamline the path to legal status for undocumented immigrants who are law abiding and contribute to their communities and is an excellent indicator of perceptions shifting in favor of immigrants.
Between 2000 and 2013, Utah’s immigrant population rose by over 50% to about 231,369 people or about 8% of the total state population. The majority of immigrants in Utah are from Mexico, Canada, and China, and Mexican immigrants represent significant economic impact since they hold over $3.7 billion in spending power and pay millions in state, local, and federal taxes.
Immigrant Economic Contribution
Immigrants in Utah tend to gravitate towards STEM fields, which are expanding 73% faster than the rest of the economy as a whole. Utah is increasingly dependent on STEM graduates who achieve advanced degrees from American universities. 29% of Utah’s STEM Master’s and Ph.D. students are foreign born, and some of these graduates go on to create jobs in the most in-demand fields in the state. They are innovative and bring new ideas and developments that lead to economy-stimulating new technologies and advancements.
According to the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute, for every 100 immigrant graduates of US Master’s or Ph.D. programs who remain in the country employed in a STEM field, 262 American jobs are created. It is estimated that by 2020 the state will need about 81,200 new STEM workers, and foreign immigrants are uniquely poised to fill this gap.
In Utah, immigration is connected to job creation. It is estimated that the H-1B visas granted between 2010 and 2013 alone will add 1,662 new jobs for Americans by 2020. In the same vein, expanding the H-1B program would, according to Regional Economic Models, Inc., add about 1,400 jobs to the market and increase gross state product by at least $117 million. It is also estimated that expanding the highly-skilled visa program and creating a more accessible path to citizenship would have added $210 million to the gross state product in 2014 alone. Additional opportunities exist for those that are not able to obtain an H-1B visa by going into business themselves. The E-2 visa is one option where they can invest a substantial amount of money to start and develop a business. Alternatively, funds permitting, the EB-5 direct investment visa/green card is also an option. Both visas will ultimately result in further job creation for residents of Utah.
Although immigrants comprise only 8.4% of the total Utah population, they make up about 8.5% of its business owners. Between 2006 and 2010, the number of businesses owned by immigrants rose to 9,229. These companies earn an average annual income of about $387.8 million, making them valuable contributors to the state’s economy.
Utah’s immigrants have a long history of founding successful companies. Smith’s Food and Drug Centers, a division of Kroger, is one of the state’s largest employers, was founded by the child of German immigrants. EnviroCare, a division of the massive EnergySolutions, was founded by an Iranian immigrant. These two companies provide jobs for about 345,000 Americans and earn about $92.1 billion each year. The acting CEO of Salt Lake City-based Overstock.com, Jonathan E. Johnson III said to FOX that immigrant STEM employees, “helps us hire more merchants, more marketers, more finance, more warehouse and more call center people. So in my view, when we bring people on and give them visas that allow them to work here, we’re creating jobs. And just as importantly, we’re not creating competition in their homelands that are going to hurt our business.” Utah employers value immigrant workers and recognize their value in a global marketplace.
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital, and most heavily populated city had about 191,180 residents as of 2013. The Salt Lake City metropolitan area 1,153,340 residents in 2014. The city is a hub for culture and is home to numerous music and performing arts venues, as well as museums. Several popular festivals are held in Salt Lake City, including the Utah Pride Festival, the Utah Arts Festival, and the Jewish Arts Festival. It also hosts a large array of popular film festivals, like Salt Lake City: FilmQuest and Salty Horror Con and Film. Salt Lake City holds festivals that celebrate cultures from around the world, including the Greek Festival, the Utah Asian Festival, the Italian Cultural Street Festival, and Utah Brazilian Festival. Salt Lake City is tapped into an array of subcultures and celebrates people with different outlooks, unique styles, and fresh ideas.
Salt Lake City Economy
Modern Salt Lake City has a service-based economy, and its primary industries are trade, government, transportation, utilities, and business and professional services. During the work week, the population grows to about 315,000 due to commuters. Students and tourists also contribute to the total number of people spending money on local goods and services. Major employers in the city include well-known companies like Delta at Salt Lake City International Airport, Intermountain Healthcare, Sinclair Oil Corporation, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Goldman Sachs has its second-largest premises in the city, and it is home to one Fortune 500 company, Huntsman Corporation.
Many high-profile tech firms have a strong presence in Salt Lake City, including eBay, Unisys, 3M, and Adobe. Companies like these are constantly on the lookout for new talent, and much of that talent appears in the form of immigrants educated in STEM subjects. No matter what industry they seek to enter, immigrant entrepreneurs are likely to find ample opportunities and an overall welcoming atmosphere.
Support for Immigrants in Utah
Utah considers immigrant entrepreneurs vital to the state’s future success. In April 2016, the Salt Lake Chamber President and Salt Lake County Mayor announced an initiative based on attracting foreign entrepreneurs to the area, welcoming them, and helping them succeed in their business ventures. The state has hired a task force dedicated to marketing Utah as an attractive market for immigrant entrepreneurs and ensuring that they are offered the help they need to integrate and expand. The New Americans Task Force is aimed at helping Utah expand its reach in the global marketplace and gain influence in the most in-demand industries around the world. Immigrant entrepreneurs seeking to create and grow their businesses in Utah will be met with economic security and open arms from the local populace and government.
About the JDC Consultancy U.S. State Featurettes
Moving to the United States to make a new start as a foreign entrepreneur is a challenging process. U.S. visa applicants face a huge number of critical decisions before submitting their visa application, one of the most important of which is deciding which State will offer the best environment for their business to grow and thrive, and provide the optimal environment for their families. Each State has its opportunities and industry specializations, and a company that sees tremendous growth in one State might not see the same results in another.
To help its clients decide which State will serve as the most advantageous home base, both for their businesses and their families, and further streamline the visa application process, JDC Consultancy publishes overviews of what each State has to offer its immigrant entrepreneurs. These featurettes showcase each State’s strengths, in this case, Utah, and provide valuable insight and statistics to help immigrant entrepreneurs make the all-important decision of which State they, their family, and their businesses, should call home.