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Report: Immigrants bring $1.4B in spending power to Alaska's economy

  • Author: Annie Zak
  • Updated: August 4, 2016
  • Published August 4, 2016

City, state and business community leaders joined together this week to push for immigration reform, citing a new report that shows how much Alaska's immigrant population impacts the state's economy.

As part of a national effort, an immigration reform advocacy group called The Partnership for a New American Economy released such reports for every state and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. By looking at demographics, entrepreneurship, taxes, visa demand and more, the reports are full of data that show the economic impact immigrant populations have across the country.

In recent years, Alaska's foreign-born population grew faster than almost every other state's. Between 2010 and 2014, the number of immigrants in Alaska grew by 19.4 percent (or 9,073 people), trailing only North Dakota and Wyoming. Nationally, the immigrant population grew by 5.8 percent during that time, according to the report.

In Alaska, nearly 8 percent of the population is foreign-born.

The Partnership for a New American Economy is co-chaired by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, among others.

The top three countries of origin for newcomers to Alaska are the Philippines, Korea and Thailand, the report found. Nearly 56,000 immigrants live in Alaska today, and 8 percent of the state's entrepreneurs are foreign-born.

Immigrant-owned businesses generated $58.5 million in business income in the state in 2014, the report found, and 2,993 immigrants in Alaska are self-employed. In 2014, foreign-born people in Alaska earned $1.8 billion, leaving them with $1.4 billion in spending power after taxes. 

During a roundtable discussion among government and business leaders at Anchorage City Hall on Wednesday, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz cited the importance of data in talking about immigration, especially as the subject continues to be a focal point in the presidential election.

"We live in really interesting times," Berkowitz said. "At the national level, politics seems to be driven by fear, and mired in a fear-based campaign right now. At the state level, there's … can only describe it as … it's a self-inflicted fiscal fallout. It is really inexcusable that in a state with all these resources and all of this beauty, that we can't get our act together as a state to solve a problem."

Berkowitz went on to say that statistics from the report can help to paint a complete picture of the ways in which immigrants contribute to the economy.

"Those are facts that are going to give us the ability to not only do something that is idealistically the right thing to do – to show that people of different backgrounds, of different histories, of different tenures in this country, can not only get along," Berkowitz said, "but then you have the pragmatic piece of that. We can get along and we can prosper."

Nationally, entrepreneurs who had immigrated from other countries have a huge stake in the economy. Foreign-born entrepreneurs are behind 51 percent of the country's billion-dollar startups and more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, according to the report.

"Immigrant populations in our city and our state are a critical, foundational element to our workforce and to our economy," said Bill Popp, president of the Anchorage Economic Development Corp. "I think this report demonstrates clearly that there's a strong entrepreneurial spirit that we need to tap into more."

The report found immigrants in Alaska were 39 percent more likely to work than people born here. More immigrants in the state are working age (between 25 and 64, in this report), at nearly 70 percent, compared to about 53 percent of people who were born in Alaska.

Industries here that have the largest share of foreign-born workers were seafood and other miscellaneous foods (74 percent); colleges, universities and professional schools (25 percent); traveler accommodation (25 percent); waste management and remediation services (18 percent); and child day care services (16 percent).

The Partnership for a New American Economy used publicly available data, primarily from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, for its reports.

The group wants to secure U.S. borders, establish a path to legal status for undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. and develop a system for employers to verify employment eligibility.

Read the full report here.

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