Outtakes—A Nation of Immigrants
Immigrants helped build our economy. My father’s grandfathers were both immigrants—Andrew Outzen from Denmark and John Aloysius Cannon from Ireland—who made their fortunes building railroads during the late 1800s. They faced scorn and resentment when they moved to the South but built successful careers.
The impact of immigrants is no less today. Immigrants and their children founded 45 percent of U.S. Fortune 500 companies, according to the recent New American Fortune 500 report. Among the Fortune 500, foreign-born individuals directly founded 101 companies, while the children of immigrants started another 122.
Henry Ford’s father was born in Ireland. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs’ biological father was born in Syria. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos’ adoptive father was born in Cuba. Two immigrants, Levi Strauss from Germany and Jacob Davis from Latvia, created Levi’s.
The percentage of Fortune 500 companies that have at least one immigrant or child-of-immigrant founder has increased steadily over the eight years since New American Economy produced its first report. In 2011, two out of every five of the Fortune 500 companies had at least one immigrant or child-of-immigrant founder.
According to the 2019 report, Fortune 500 companies founded by immigrants or their children had $6.1 trillion in annual revenue last year. That figure is higher than the GDP of many developed countries—including Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom. These Fortune 500 firms employ over 13.5 million people—a population that would rank as the fifth-largest state in the country, just after New York but easily beating Pennsylvania.
Among the states that have 10 or more New American Fortune 500 companies, New York leads with 35 firms. California comes in second with 29 New American Fortune 500 companies, followed by Illinois with 21, Texas with 18, Virginia with 12 and both Florida and New Jersey with 10 each.
The New American Fortune 500 is only one example of how immigrants and their children create American jobs and drive our economy. Medium and small businesses are also vital to the U.S. economy. Immigrants have a significant role to play here, with nearly 3.2 million immigrants running their own businesses.
Data from 2017 also showed that immigrants continue to be more likely to be entrepreneurs than their U.S.-born counterparts. According to research, nearly all net job growth in the United States is attributed to new firms and startups. We, as a nation, should be reaching out to bring more immigrants to our shores.
As President Ronald Reagan said, “Our nation is a nation of immigrants. More than any other country, our strength comes from our own immigrant heritage and our capacity to welcome those from other lands.”