Maine Communities Foster Immigrants’ Small Businesses

“Businesses are vital for this community,” says Hussein Ahmed, the owner of Barwaqo, a convenience store in Lewiston, Maine. A native of Somalia, Ahmed arrived in town in 2003 and set up shop within the year.

Lewiston, a destination for immigrants since French-Canadian millworkers arrived in the 19th century, has in the most recent decade absorbed 8,000 Somali refugees. Ahmed was one who quickly became active in the Lewiston community and encouraged other Somalis to do the same. Today the head of the county’s Chamber of Commerce praises Ahmed as a “leader in the community.”

Maine is the whitest state in the country (95.4 percent, according to 2010 census data), but its minority population is growing. A combination of migrant workers and refugee settlers, who began to arrive in the 1990s, nearly doubled Maine’s black population between 2000 and 2010. Over the same period, Maine’s Latino population, largely of Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage, grew by more than 80 percent.

To read the article: FRBB On-line Community and Banking magazine.

Alexandra Alvarez is a Bowdoin College Fellow and Jody Harris is the senior policy analyst at the Maine Center for Economic Policy.