I am an immigrant who, like many of my immigrant colleagues, feels proud to be contributing to my new country by working hard and creating new jobs for others. Yet our stories — indeed our very existence — make some people in government uncomfortable.
Not long ago, Democrats and Republicans alike talked about building our country’s economic competitiveness by stapling green cards onto the college diplomas of immigrant STEM graduates. That was before the immigration issue got hijacked by a nativist “stealing our jobs” narrative that couldn’t be more wrong.
Earlier this month, I was the proud recipient of an Immigrant Entrepreneur Award from the Massachusetts-based Immigrant Learning Center. On a night that should have been nothing but festive, an undercurrent of fear was palpable throughout the awards event.
In 2002, I came to the United States from Germany (a heritage I share with President Trump) with my wife, Dr. Eri Inoue-Fruehauf. We were both postdoctoral research fellows with two-year scholarships — hers was to study nutritional causes of cancer at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University; mine was at Harvard Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Program.
In 2013, Peter Parker and I opened LabCentral in Kendall Square, Cambridge, the hub of biotechnology research in the Northeast. Since then, our company has served more than 60 high-flying life sciences startups, 73 percent of which were founded or co-founded by immigrants. Between 2014 and 2016, our resident companies filed 261 US patents and raised more than $1 billion to advance their research and development programs.
In 2016 alone, LabCentral startups raised more than $200 million in venture capital funding. If LabCentral was a region of the country, it would be third in biopharma investing, after Northern and Southern California.
So when I hear the job-stealing narrative, I get upset. Whose jobs are being stolen by the immigrant founders of these companies, or by the inventors of these technologies who come from all over the world? No one’s. In fact, the innovation and ingenuity of LabCentral’s entrepreneurs and innovative teams have created more than 700 new direct jobs, which typically translate into five to six times that in indirect positions.
According to the New American Economy, in 2014, the 65,373 immigrant-owned firms in Massachusetts employed nearly 135,000 people and generated $1.7 billion in business income. These are conservative estimates because they exclude large, publicly traded companies. In the same year, immigrant-led households in the commonwealth earned $36.8 billion, contributing one in seven dollars paid in local and state tax revenues. The firefighter, the teacher, the health officer, the public park — we count on them being there when we need them and immigrants’ hard-earned dollars help make them possible.
The economic contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs extend across the nation and the world. The “New American” Fortune 500 reported in 2011 that, at $4.2 trillion, the revenue generated by Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or children of immigrants was greater than the combined gross domestic products of every country in the world outside the US, excluding China and Japan. Fortune 500 companies founded by first-generation immigrants alone generated $1.7 trillion of that amount!
This isn’t a new phenomenon. Immigrant entrepreneurs have long been among America’s job creators and economy boosters. They have been core contributors to America’s past success and will be equally important to its future.
As a successful American entrepreneur and a proud immigrant father of three American-born children, I feel a special obligation to speak out and fight to protect America’s reputation and competitive position in the world. Both are at serious risk from the administration’s proposed policies on immigration, which will hurt America’s competitive position.
The perceptions created by the administration are already having harmful consequences. Approximately 40 percent of colleges and nearly half of graduate programs have reported declines in applications from international students due to a possible “Trump effect.” Press reports quote admissions officers having to counsel worried families who now fear violence against their loved ones due to America’s “anti-Muslim attitude.”
As a German and as a student of history, I feel especially attuned and alarmed.
For generations, America has been the center of innovation, discovery, and entrepreneurship. It’s where you go to turn the germ of an idea into a viable, commercial product that creates jobs. That helps grow the economy and make America great. This is the storied America that drew me and, I suspect, many other immigrant entrepreneurs to its shores.
But if the anti-immigration rhetoric goes unchecked, unfiltered, and increasingly accepted, and is heard by entrepreneurs around the globe, I’m worried they will stay home or go elsewhere, and America will lose its competitive edge — along with its moral high ground.
Immigration is good for business, good for our communities, and good for our country. It’s the essence of the American dream and spirit. All of us, immigrants and native-born Americans, must speak out against bigoted bombast and stand up to those whose are moving (or even just tweeting) to oppose or limit legal immigration. It’s the right and smart thing to do.
Johannes Fruehauf, MD, is the co-founder and president of LabCentral in Cambridge (Kendall Square), Mass.; founder, president, and CEO of Biolabs and the Biolabs network; and co-founder and general partner at BioInnovation Capital. The views represented here solely reflect the opinions of its author and not necessarily those of LabCentral or any other organization with whom he is associated.