MILLBURN – A group of business leaders who support federal immigration reform are calling for nominations for the 2014 New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards.
The awards, in its second year, honors current first-generation immigrant business leaders helping local New Jersey communities thrive, Molly Fisch-Friedman, AJC New Jersey Goldman Fellow said.
“The awards were created to highlight the history and academic influence of New Jersey’s immigrant contributions to New Jersey communities,” she said. The awards honor immigrants for their achievements in growth, advocacy, innovation, sustainability and leadership.”
Last year’s 26 nominees hailed from four continents and 15 countries and included businesses that ran the gamut from high tech firms to small mom and pop businesses. Partner organizations are hoping to double the number of nominations this year.
Avani Tandon, speaking on behalf of the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce, said that “the 2nd Annual New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards are one of the best ways to reward immigrants who moved across oceans to live the American dream.”
She said immigrants own about 29 percent of the state’s businesses and add about $288 billion to the state’s economy each year.
Samia Bahsoun of S2 Associates International and the New Jersey Main Street Alliance, as well as a winner of the 2013 David Sarnoff Award for Advocacy, said that even though she grew up in several different countries, she never felt fully accepted in any of them.
“The United States was the only country that welcomed me,” she said adding that “it was only when I became naturalized and gained the true respect of citizenship that I began for the first time to feel that I was contributing not only to my small business but also to the economy and my country as well.”
Bahsoun said a lot of small businesses support immigration reform because “a lot of small businesses are created by immigrants in this country,” she said.
She said as the owner of a consulting business, whose business also operates internationally, she is able to get so much business because “we speak many languages, many of us are very educated and we understand diverse cultures.”
“When we come to this country, we don’t only come in to take away what this country has to offer, but we bring a lot to this country,” she said.
Bahsoun said immigration reform “is critical for the United States in order for us to remain competitive.”
“Today’s economy is a global economy,” Esperanza Porras-Fields of the Morris County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce, said. “We bring people from every part of the world and do business in all corners of the world.”
Katherine Kish of Einstein’s Alley said that immigrants are not only drawn to New Jersey because of the state’s “long history of innovation but also by the diversity, the academic resources and the support of an entrepreneurial tradition that is here.”
She explained she recently visited Applied Info in the Somerset section of Franklin, owned by John and Betty Lau, who were winners of the Albert Einstein innovation award last year and was impressed by what she saw.
“They are just the perfect example of the kind of energy, talent, enthusiasm and drive that immigrant business owners bring to this country and New Jersey,” she said. “That’s the kind of energy we need in this country to continue thriving.”
Ryan Lilienthal, representing AJC New Jersey, said that “the world’s best and brightest look to the beacon of light held aloft by Lady Liberty as hope for the future.”
He said “immigrants have been a continual source of renewal, entrepreneurship and energy that pushes America into the future.”
He said the awards “honor the spirit of our immigrant nation by honoring immigrants who represent what America is all about.”
He stressed the need for immigration reform to enhance and strengthen the New Jersey economy.
“If we don’t fix the immigration system, we will no longer be a beacon of light for the rest of the world. No one wants to see the day when no one wants to come to America.”
The sixteen partners of the New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards include the American Jewish Committee, the Asian Indian Chamber of Commerce, Einstein’s Alley, the Greater Monmouth Chamber of Commerce, the Intersect Fund, the MIDJersey Chamber of Commerce, the Morris County Chamber of Commerce, the Morris County Hispanic-American Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Main Street Alliance and the Rothman Institute of Entrepreneurship at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Nominations will be accepted through September 30 for six awards, including awards for growth, advocacy, innovation, sustainability and leadership, as well as the 2014 Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year. Those interested are encouraged to nominate an immigrant entrepreneur, and self-nominations are welcomed.
The nomination form can be found on the New Jersey Immigrant Entrepreneur Awards website at njieawards.org.
Awards will be presented Dec. 9 at Hennessy Hall, Florham Campus, Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Staff Writer Susan Loyer: 732-565-7243; firstname.lastname@example.org