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August 27, 2018 | last updated August 28, 2018 8:35 am

Immigrants contribute $1.2B to Portland area economy, study shows

Photo / Jim Neuger
Photo / Jim Neuger
In South Portland, Rwanda Bean Co. co-founder Mike Mwenedata sources beans from his East African homeland. The start-up returns half of what it earns to farmers. A newly released study reports that immigrants in the greater Portland metropolitan area contribute more than $1 billion to the region's economy.

Immigrants in the Portland metropolitan area contributed $1.2 billion to the area's economy in 2016, according to a report released on Friday.

The report was published by the national New American Economy coalition in partnership with the Portland Office of Economic Opportunity and the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

It shows that the area's foreign-born population accounted for more than 75% of population growth from 2011 to 2016, and that immigrants account for 5.1% of the area's working-age population — though only 4.6% of its overall population.

The report shows that immigrants in greater Portland account for 6% of all workers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math, industries where Maine is facing a significant labor shortage (with 11 open positions for every unemployed STEM worker). Immigrants fill key jobs across the skills spectrum from teachers to housekeepers and were more likely than their U.S.-born peers to have a bachelor's degree or higher in 2016.

"Portland has become the confluence of so many different cultures and people, and we are starting to see that evolve in the professional landscape as well," said Quincy Hentzel, CEO of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

She added: "There's a new energy in the business sector as more and more entrepreneurs — both new to the country and new to the market—continue to start businesses and contribute to our growing economy to the tune of adding more than a billion dollars to Portland's GDP and contributing almost $200 million in state and federal taxes."

Julia Trujillo Luengo, director of Portland's Office of Economic Opportunity, said the report is key to putting forth an "inspirational, meaningful and quantifiable" immigration agenda. She also said it highlights the crucial partnership between the chamber of commerce and her office.

In Maine as a whole, where immigrants make up only 3% of the population, they own small businesses that generate $48 million in annual revenue, according to a 2017 report by the American Immigration Council cited in a recent Mainebiz feature profiling a handful of immigrant entrepreneurs.

They include Rwandan-born Mike Mwenedata of Rwanda Bean Co. and Quang Nguyen, the Vietnamese-born owner of nail salons in Cape Elizabeth and Windham, a financial advisory firm and a seafood business he recently bought for his dad and his cousin.

Key findings of the report

The brief, "New Americans in Portland, ME," includes these findings:

  • Immigrants contributed $1.2 billion to the Portland metro area's GDP in 2016. Immigrant households earned $678.7 million in income in 2016 and held $521.3 million in spending power.
  • Given their income, immigrants contributed significantly to federal, state, and local taxes. Immigrants paid $133 million in federal taxes and $62 million in state and local taxes in 2016.
  • Immigrants were responsible for 75.2% of population growth in the City of Portland and surrounding cities between 2011 and 2016. Over those five years, the total population increased by 1.5%, while the immigrant population increased by 12.2%.
  • Despite making up just 4.6% of the overall population in the metro area, immigrants played an outsize role in the labor force in 2016. Foreign-born workers represented 5.1% of the working-age population and 6 percent of all workers in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) fields in the Portland metro area.
  • Immigrants in the Portland metro area were more likely than their U.S.-born counterparts to have a bachelor's degree or higher in 2016. 36.8% of immigrants had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2016, compared to 30% of the U.S.-born. And 12.8% of immigrants had an advanced degree—the same share as the U.S.-born.
  • Immigrants play an outsize role in several key industries in the area. Though they are 4.6 percent of the population, foreign-born workers made up 6.5 percent of all workers in the manufacturing industry and 5.4 percent of workers in the healthcare industry.
  • More than half — 55.6% — of immigrants and refugees in the Portland metro area were naturalized citizens in 2016.
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