3 things to know about immigrants' contributions to Minnesota's economy

'Without immigration, Minnesota would actually be losing more population than gaining'

Potato greens at the Minneapolis Farmers Market.
A farmer handles potato greens at the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Sept. 17, 2016 in Minneapolis. Many Minnesota farmers grow vegetables popular to immigrant communities.
Sam Harper | MPR News

Minnesota-born folks are moving away from the state. But immigrants from other countries are keeping Minnesota’s population growing.

That’s one of the takeaways of a new report from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, which analyzed immigrants’ contributions to the state economy.

Mexico, Somalia, India and Laos are the top four countries of birth for immigrants living in Minnesota. Residents born outside the U.S. spend more than $12.4 billion in the state every year, and paid $4.5 billion in taxes in 2019, the report states.

From health care to agriculture, Minnesota industries wouldn’t be as robust without immigrants, the numbers show.

Laura Bordelon, senior vice president of advocacy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and one of the report’s authors, joined All Things Considered host Tom Crann to break down the findings.

“When these individuals come to Minnesota and call Minnesota home, everybody succeeds,” she said.

Here are three important things to know:

1) Immigration is driving the state’s population growth

Minnesota’s population is aging. By the early 2040s, deaths will outnumber births in the state, according to the State Demographer.

And between 2002 and 2019, more U.S.-born people were leaving the state than were coming from other states. But “net international migration remained steadfastly high,” the report states. So, “for Minnesota to experience meaningful population growth in the future, it will need to come from migration to the state.”

“Without immigration, Minnesota would actually be losing more population than gaining,” Bordelon said.

2) Immigrant workers could propel recovery from COVID-19 economic recession

While Minnesota’s population is aging, immigrants are younger on average than people born in the state.

People born in other countries make up the majority of Minnesota’s working age population, or people ages 18 to 64, the report states. While 61 percent of people born in Minnesota are considered working age, 80 percent of immigrants are.

That’s important as the economy recovers from the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. As jobs come back, we will need people to fill them, Bordelon said.

“We need these workers, we need more people to fill job growth in our state.”

3) Minnesota’s immigrant entrepreneurship lags behind the country’s

About 20 percent of Minnesota’s entrepreneurs are immigrants from another country. That’s a significant slice of the pie, but it’s still less than the national average, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce found.

“Given that we have a robust economy here, immigrants are finding work, so they’re not necessarily starting a business out of necessity as they might in other states,” Bordelon said.

Still, there are Minnesota residents born in other countries who want to start businesses, but don’t have the resources to do so.

“Many immigrants are interested in starting their own agricultural business, but financing, marketing and business acumen present challenges,” the report states. “Perhaps the most basic aspect of farming is also the most difficult for immigrants to overcome — access to land.”

But Minnesota’s immigrant population is relatively young. Minnesota should focus on developing mentorship programs and resources for young immigrants who have goals of building small businesses in the future, Bordelon said.

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