Why Australia’s migrant small businesses are key to our economic and social recovery

Australia has long considered small businesses to be its backbone – not only of the economy but of the people who drive it. Every Australian has a story about a local business that matters to them, whether it’s the corner store with the best hot chips, the cafe owner who knows them by name, or the local bank branch that sponsors their child’s fundraiser.

Small businesses contributed almost $418bn to Australia’s GDP in 2018-19 (32% of the total economy) and employed 41% of the business workforce, driving connections, new jobs, and community spirit. As we look to a future beyond Covid-19, they will continue to play a significant role – this time in our recovery.

Australia’s small business landscape is full of migrant success stories. According to the CGU Migrant Small Business Report, in 2017 more than a third of small businesses were run by first or second-generation migrants, most of whom didn’t own a business before coming to Australia. Migrant business owners employed 1.4 million people across Australia and had annual revenue that was 53% higher than for non-migrant businesses.

People migrated to Australia primarily for its quality of life (47%) and to provide for their families (34%), but Australia has benefited greatly from their arrival. Many migrant small business owners are university educated, highly skilled, and motivated by ideas and future growth. The report found that more than half of Australia’s migrant community had a bachelor’s degree or higher, and 23% of migrant business owners started their business because they desired to “try out an innovative idea”, compared to 16% of non-migrant business owners.

Their enterprises drive Australian employment: one-third of migrant business owners planned on hiring new people to grow their business, and more provided training to young people than non-migrant owners (25% versus 19%). It has been predicted that by 2050, migration will contribute $1.6tn to Australia’s GDP, and add 15.7% to our workforce participation rate.

An essay published by the Scanlon Foundation Research Institute this year explored the stories of these pivotal businesses and their impact on local communities. Offering everything from organic produce to traditional medicine, these business owners have become touchstones of their local communities.

Migrant business owners’ social contributions shape modern Australia, through the food, music, language, and tradition that give this country its reputation for multiculturalism and introduce non-migrants to new perspectives. “Building relationships,” the essay’s author, Trish Prentice, writes of restaurant owner John, “is part of his core business.”

But while a third of migrant business owners surveyed for the CGU report believed their cultural background had helped them succeed, not all Australians have recognized its value. And while 14% said their business had benefited from the unique skills and strong work ethic their cultural background had provided them, 12% reported being affected by racism or discrimination.

At the peak of Covid-19, racially motivated narratives led to people avoiding usually bustling Chinatown. Business owners such as Dan Hong watched as crowds plummeted, leaving once-vibrant restaurants empty.

With their typical resourcefulness and support from businesses such as Google Australia and Chromebook, struggling eateries pivoted, finding new ways to share their global cuisines. They flipped the story, offering takeaway, delivery services, and online ordering that brought their communities together once more.

Google Australia’s senior director of marketing, Aisling Finch, says: “Small businesses thrive here because communities do rally around them, and [because of] the ‘have a go’ attitude that’s inherent to Australia’s culture. Migrant-owned businesses bring diversity, ideas, and new ways of doing things that don’t just grow their own businesses, but deliver benefits to the communities they’re part of and to the whole economy.”

Covid-19 saw an uptake of digital tools, with businesses putting products and services online and embracing e-commerce, social media platforms, and connectivity apps such as Zoom. Tools such as Search and paid advertising have also reduced barriers during a difficult time. Google platforms and services have created a multitude of business benefits – 34% of which have been derived by small businesses. The businesses that have made it through – and even thrived – are those that rose to the challenge by diversifying their offerings and finding new ways to meet their customers’ needs.

Nearly half of small businesses in Australia pivoted in response to the pandemic and almost a third of businesses expect to keep modifications made during this time for the long term. These radical changes will keep us all connected. Whether they’re running a favorite local restaurant or simply being part of a welcoming neighborhood, migrant-run small businesses will continue to be a vital part of every Australian community.

Source: The Guardian

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