Helping immigrants with business needs, Philly hopes to gain in translation

 Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the annual luncheon of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the annual luncheon of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

To boost Philadelphia’s economy, the city’s new mayor wants to do more to support small businesses owned by immigrants.

Over the years, immigrants have contributed to an increase in the city’s population. A recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute — a liberal think tank — found that they make up 28 percent of Philadelphia’s “Main Street” business owners. Of the 13,000 immigrant business owners, the study found, most were born in India, followed by Korea, Greece, China, Vietnam, Ukraine, Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Iran.

That’s why Mayor Jim Kenney is focusing one part of his economic development strategy on helping immigrants navigate the maze of legal processes involved in owning a business.

“To assist our immigrant businesses and to support our robust Latino community, the Department of Commerce will be adding two new bilingual business services managers in Spanish and also Korean over the next few months,” Kenney announced during a speech to the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. 

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Sylvie Gallier Howard, the Commerce Department’s chief of staff, said the city already offers this service for Mandarin-speakers, which has helped Chinese business owners take better advantage of programs that could help them grow. The department is expanding its offerings to Latino and Korean communities by popular demand.

“We were finding, for example, on Chelten Avenue in Germantown that Korean business owners, a lot of times their managers or owners don’t speak English,” she said, “And some of them were going to Councilman David Oh when they needed services because of language requirements, so we just determined that was really a priority.”

Gallier Howard hopes to hire business service managers who speak Vietnamese, Arabic and French.

“Sometimes there’s a level of distrust that’s cultural between residents and government,” she said. “And so it just helps to promote the programs that can better serve these businesses.”

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