When I was growing up, we learned in school that the United States was considered a melting pot of races and ethnic groups. I myself come from first and second generation immigrants, so I am no stranger to this “melting” business.
But the recent wave of immigration over the past decade has brought the melting pot concept to new highs, certainly in my lifetime. I am more conscious of the many cultures, ethnic backgrounds and languages being spoken in this country than I can ever remember.
This is true even here in Ohio in the Midwest USA where I am located. We don’t have nearly the same recent influx of immigrants that other parts of the country have experienced. Yet, even here, the evidence is increasingly clear about how immigrants are refreshing and reshaping the population.
Naturally, that ethnic mix gets reflected in the small business population. According to the latest U.S. business census figures available, Hispanics are the largest minority group among small business owners, constituting over 5% of small business owners. Asians are the next largest group, constituting almost another 5% of small business owners. This U.S. Census chart shows business ownership (remember, the vast majority are small businesses):
But there is another impact on the small business community: all the different ethnic groups are opening up new opportunities for small businesses to serve the increasingly ethnic tastes in this country.
One area is that of ethnic foods. As the Lempert report writes, ethnic food sales in grocery stores are on the rise, and it’s attributable in part to immigration:
A choice destination for immigrants, the United States has also become a diverse center of ethnic foods. Not only do people who transplant here crave tastes from their homelands – often in convenient packaged products – they also expose neighbors to their native cuisines and create further demand for the distinct flavors.
While ethnic foods may be an opportunity for large companies, remember that smaller enterprises can break into the food market with niche products. I love trying artisan foods, and some of the best are provided by entrepreneurial firms.
For more background, read also: The Hispanic-ization of America