By Steve Kelman

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The contributions of immigrants -- it's not just high tech

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Whether it's Silicon Valley or a New York yogurt factory, the vitality and energy immigrants bring to the U.S. economy are tremendous assets.

Many, especially in the tech world, are familiar with the contributions of immigrants to high-tech business in the United States -- according to some estimates, some 40 percent of NASDAQ-listed tech firms were founded by people not born in the United States. But a fascinating and inspiring article recently appearing in the Financial Times of London about Hamdi Ulukaya, the Turkish immigrant who brought Greek-style yogurt to America, reminds us that these contributions to our country are not limited to the high-tech sphere.

Ulukaya came to the United States in 1994 to study English, started working on a farm in upstate New York, and in 2002 opened a small plant making a Turkish-style cheese. He started his yogurt company, Chobani, in 2007 when he bought a yogurt plant that had been shut down by Kraft Food. His idea was to bring a more-natural, less-sugared yogurt onto the market. (And it's worth noting that he got a $1 million loan from the Small Business Administration to buy the plant.)

Several years later, Chobani yoghurt sells a billion dollars a year of product, and the company employs 2,000 people. It all started by getting one supermarket on Long Island to sell his yogurt.

There is an important message here, which seems to be becoming more and more accepted in political debate: Immigrants are a source of amazing vitality and energy in the U.S. economy. We should be lucky they want to come here.

With the sad news coming from my hometown of Boston this week, Ulukaya's story is something to cheer us up about the human spirit and about the United States.

(By the way, I'd like to thank all the friends, former students, and others who contacted me either on Facebook or by email to express sympathies for our loss here in Boston.)


Posted on Apr 17, 2013 at 12:09 PM


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