The Recipe for Foreign-born Entrepreneurship in Houston

America is a country of immigrants but you may be surprised to find how many own small businesses in the Bayou City.

Almost one out of every three small firms in Houston is controlled by an immigrant, meaning someone who was not born in the U.S.

Imagine moving to another country where you don't speak the language at first, then trying to compete with the locals on their own turf. It's tough, says Vanderlei Bernardi.

He is the chef – and co-owner – of Tradicao Brazilian Steakhouse, which has locations in Clear Lake and near Sugar Land. The restaurants' other owners are also immigrants.

"Usually the people that come here, they work harder, they have more education," said Bernardi. "So they're better prepared to run the business."

While immigrants make up 22 percent of Houston's population, they comprise 29 percent of our workforce.

But they have a 31 percent share of the business ownership, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute.

The organization's latest figures show more than half of immigrant-owned businesses have at least one other paid employee.

Tradicao's two locations have created about 40 jobs, many of them filled by other immigrants, says Bernardi.

"We depend on the people that come here to work because some jobs - the local people, they don't want to take it. These immigrants are willing to take it."

Melissa Abrantes is a second-generation immigrant, the American-born daughter of one of the restaurant's other owners.

And Abrantes has lived the learning curve for foreign-born entrepreneurs. She has watched her parents grapple with unfamiliar laws and legal terms.

"I remember that when we were reading contracts for our lease, they'd sit with a dictionary next to them, because they just didn't know," said Abrantes. "And so it was really interesting to see from my perspective how they struggle with it, and then also how they thrive in it. Because the big thing is that they thrive."

"(If) they work hard," insisted Bernardi, "the chances are there. The opportunities are there."

He adds that our country's current conversation about immigration ought to be simplified – boiled down to just one question.

"Actually, the only people we don't need here are the bad guys."

For more stories: My Fox Houston

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