by Kingshuk Mukherjee
The Saint Cloud area has undergone significant changes in recent decades. According to the state demographer in 1950, 90 percent of immigrants came from Europe. However, in 2009-11, that share fell from to 10 percent. Today immigrants in Greater Saint Cloud region are from East Africa, Vietnam, Korea, Mexico, and other parts of Asia and Latin America. According to recent estimates minorities now make up almost 16.7% of the total population. According to the US census data, 6,763 Latinos reside in Stearns, Benton, and Sherburne counties. More than 2,380 people of African descent are also calling the Saint Cloud metro area “home”. The fastest growing are the Somali communities and there is a debate of the actual numbers. Some Somali local leaders say this figure can be as high as 10,000.
There are approximately 20 Somali business in the sectors such as restaurants, grocery stores, language interpretation, transportation, repair shops, and day care centers. Recent research by a graduate of St. John’s University, Andrew Hovel identified two major barriers to starting or growing businesses in Saint Cloud region. First, Somali entrepreneurs often lack the network and reputation necessary to grow a consumer base or draw investors. Second, many immigrant entrepreneurs lack the credit history to secure a loan or do not feel comfortable accepting a loan for cultural reasons. Bill Kemp, the Business Development Director of Greater Saint Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) also identified similar challenges facing immigrant entrepreneurs.
Some successful Somali entrepreneurs are Abdul Kulane who runs a translation and interpretation service and Hared Jibril who opened the first Halal grocery in St. Cloud. Success in business can also mean more economic well-being for that community. Other successful businesses are Viet-Tien International Market and Deli, the well-established Indian restaurant Star of India and their new second business Kohinoor restaurant, and Day’s Inn owned by Jay Singh. A newly opened restaurant called Paneer Flatbread Co. is a unique partnership between a young Bangladeshi immigrants, Mr. Ahmed Asif Iqbal (previous Burger King Supervisor) and a native of St Cloud from Sartell, Jim Scully. The immigrant community has become a good source for employment in the region. It was only just a few years back that the two largest employers of Saint Cloud were both foreign origin corporations. The names of these corporations are Walters Kluwer’s Financial Services (a Dutch company) and ING Direct (also a Dutch company). INC Direct is now the Capital One Bank since 2010.
The GSDC should explore the expansion of their financing products in order to make financing compatible with Islamic beliefs. Since Islamic law prohibits interest-based credit financing, Muslim banks and entrepreneurs use a practice of financing known as Murahaba.
Overall the future contribution of the immigrant driven businesses are going to grow at significant pace. By partnering mainstream organizations such as the chamber of commerce it will lead to a well-structured, planned and strategic growth.