On September 23, leaders from several of New York’s major industries, including real estate, tech, fashion, film, hospitality, and business made the case for commonsense immigration reform as part of a discussion detailing the role immigrants play in our country’s economy.
Speakers included Kathryn Wylde, President and CEO of The Partnership for New York City; Ken Biberaj, Vice President of Russian Tea Room and Chairman of the Board of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce; MaryAnne Gilmartin, President and CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies; Fashion Designer Nanette Lepore; Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman of MongoDB, and Chairman and CEO of AlleyCorp; and Writer and Film Director Paola Mendoza. The panel was moderated by Eric Gertler, CEO of Ulysses Ventures, and former President of U.S. News & World Report.
The conversation marked the first time that leaders representing a cross-section of New York businesses convened to discuss the urgent need for reform.
“Today’s robust discussion among a diverse group of business leaders reinforces the need for commonsense immigration reform to ensure that the United States remains a global leader of innovation as well as a beacon of equality and opportunity to the world,” said moderator Eric Gertler.
One of the main topics discussed was the need to diversify the workforce with talented individuals from around the world.
“Ready access to a diversity of global talent is what U.S. employers want from our national immigration policy, along with a commonsense resolution of the legal status of immigrants who are already here,” said Kathryn S. Wylde, President and CEO of The Partnership for New York City. “In New York City, immigrants represent 47% of our small business owners, and form a large share of our professional employees and of the student population at our many universities and research centers. Immigration is what fuels our growth and our leadership in the global economy.”
Kevin Ryan, Founder and Chairman of MongoDB, echoed Wylde’s call for a diverse workforce.
“We can either create high-paying jobs in the United States or push innovative companies away, delivering those jobs to other countries,” said Ryan. “Many of the people hired at innovative companies in the tech industry get their start here and then start their own companies a few years later, creating even more jobs. The U.S. economy needs to attract these people for the long term if we want to maintain our technological edge.”
“We can either create high-paying jobs in the United States or push innovative companies away, delivering those jobs to other countries.”
Ken Biberaj, Vice President of New York’s iconic Russian Tea Room, agreed that diversity is important for all types businesses.
“Diversity is the secret ingredient that makes New York City restaurants the most important and influential in the world,” said Biberaj. “Immigrants are the lifeblood of the industry – out front serving guests, in the kitchen perfecting recipes, and setting up new restaurants as entrepreneurs–without their innovation and hard work our melting pot would be noticeably less flavorful. Commonsense immigration reform is essential to preserving the character and success of New York, and maintaining our restaurant industry as an economic powerhouse,” shared Biberaj.
Nanette Lepore, a veteran of New York’s fashion industry who manufactures her clothing locally, shared her personal experience of relying on immigrants to help successfully run her business.
“When I started my business in New York City’s Garment District in 1987, I relied on immigrants from all over the world to help me produce my collections,” said Lepore. “The old Jewish men supplied my trims and embroideries, the Chinese and Korean immigrants sewed my garments together, the South Americans and Mexicans worked in the cutting rooms and the Italian tailors made my patterns. All of them shared their knowledge and expertise. They genuinely wanted to help me grow a successful business. It is this immersion and integration of international craftsmanship that keeps the New York City fashion industry thriving.”
New York-based filmmaker Paola Mendoza reiterated Lepore’s discussion, sharing her own experience as an immigrant.
“New York’s film industry is fueled by international talent, from actors and directors to scriptwriters and producers,” said Mendoza. “Immigrants are powerful storytellers who, for generations, have drawn on distinct cultures and traditions from around the world to captivate audiences. As both a filmmaker and a Colombian immigrant, I’ve seen firsthand the creativity that immigrants have contributed and continue to contribute to American cinema. It is through my work as a filmmaker that I hope to show the world the humanity that lies within each of us.”
The discussion was hosted by FWD.us as part of a series of events entitled, The Economics of Commonsense Immigration Reform. President of FWD.us, Todd Schulte summed up the discussion, emphasizing that the positive impacts immigrants make are not limited to New York. “The economic contribution of immigrants is not a unique story to New York City, it’s a tale that plays out in all 50 states,” said Schulte. “It’s more important now than ever to recognize the cultural and economic contributions every immigrant group has made over time. Commonsense immigration reform will allow us to attract innovators and entrepreneurs, and provide an economic boost to communities in the form of jobs, growth, and an expanded tax base–all while continuing the proud immigrant tradition that makes America great.”