'Immigrant Powered' Campaign Highlights Immigrants' Contributions To South Florida Economy

Dec 12, 2018

"Immigrant Powered" is a new campaign centered around the contributions immigrants make to South Florida's economy.


A 2016 Kaufman Foundation study found the Miami and Fort Lauderdale metro areas are hubs for immigrant high-tech entrepreneurs. And immigrants have a strong presence across industries in South Florida, including healthcare, construction, agriculture and administration. According to the American Immigrant Council, one of four Florida workers is an immigrant. 

This new campaign gives stickers to local business to post on their doors or walls − the red, white and blue stickers read "Immigrant Powered.”

The idea was created by Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, an organizational pyschologist and general manager at Cambridge Innovation Center Miami. Martinez-Kalinina was born in Cuba and she spoke to WLRN's Nadege Green about drawing positive attention to South Florida's immigrant workforce.

WLRN: Walk me through what immigrant powered is and why you started it. Why now? 

Martinez-Kalinina: I noticed an absence in the conversation around the many long list of data points chronicling the economic impact of immigrants across our communities in the U.S. And so it felt that there was a disconnect between how we have a conversation about immigrant contributions in this country and how that gets featured. I think about a fourth of startups in the U.S. over the last decade have been founded by at least one immigrant founder, as an example. 

If you look at a completely different part of our labor force and you look at industries that experienced chronic labour shortages such as farming and agriculture, construction, there is an incredible amount of immigrants that are powering and making those sectors work. It tells a really rich story of how diverse and how different the contributions of immigrants to our labor force on our economic growth and prosperity are across completely different types of industries. 

What does it mean to be immigrant powered? 

If you are owned, founded, funded, staffed by immigrants—if none of you are immigrants, but you feel like your clients are immigrants, you serve immigrants in your community—however it is that you define yourself as immigrant powered you're welcome to participate. 

How many businesses have signed up so far and what are businesses telling you about why they support this campaign? 

Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, founder of "Immigrant Powered" campaign.

We have about 60 businesses signed up across South Florida. When people first submit a questionnaire for a sticker you have to tell us kind of what makes your business immigrant powered. It's a very brief questionnaire but that is one of the questions. And some of the comments that we've gotten have been everything from, "I'm not an immigrant but my family immigrated here and therefore I really consider my business immigrant powered." This really speaks to me or stories around, "I was undocumented for 20 years and then I started a business and now I'm business owner and it feels really important to me to be able to tell that story."

You mentioned earlier that you know of at least one business where it sparked a conversation between a customer and a business owner. Can you share any of those specific examples?

Sure, I'm happy to share two. So one was a particular business owner that reported having some conversations with a handful of customers who didn't realize that they were immigrants just because they didn't have an accent. They kind of don't present I guess as with the stereotype of an immigrant would be. 

But the owners of this particular restaurant are and so it lent to some very interesting conversations in a wonderful way where their customers hadn't realized that they were immigrants and were inquiring around kind of what it what it means to be immigrant powered. 

The other example I had was a conversation I had personally with someone who kind of came across the sticker and asked more about it and their concern was around, "Well does this mean that people are in some way un-American or are they aligning more with an immigrant identity?" Or kind of, "What does this mean? Is this in conflict with them being kind of tethered to this community?" 

And it led to a really fascinating discussion around, well what is more patriotic than you know contributing to your community, starting a business, running a business, working, supporting your family and investing in your own city. If that is not patriotic, what is? I guess it's a little bit of a rhetorical question. And we ended on a really nice note even though we kind of started out in a little bit of an interesting point of question.