Immigrants point to benefits of business ownership

Nathan Halverson

Russom Solomon, a University civil engineering graduate, said he has relied on trial and error to learn the American way of business since immigrating in 1991.

“Nothing prepared us for this. Nothing,” said Solomon, an African immigrant and aspiring business owner.

“It is a little harder for us who are first immigrants here. There’s nobody to teach you that stuff,” Solomon said. “For us, you learn the hard way.”

The hard way takes years of empirical learning, sometimes even requiring new business practices to reconcile cultural and religious differences.

But many immigrants in the Cedar-Riverside area near the University’s West Bank say the benefits of owning a business are worth the trouble.

Solomon said running his own business has always been his American dream.

He is in the process of buying the Red Sea restaurant on Cedar Avenue with his business partner Hirut Berhane, who is a registered nurse at Fairview University hospital.

He said owning a business will give him a sense of freedom and independence.

But most importantly, it will make Minnesota feel more like home, Solomon said.

He said it’s important to “set your own roots here” and establish a place where his kids can work.

“When you work for yourself, all your sweat will be for you.”

Running a business wasn’t new to Solomon. His parents owned a sweater manufacturing business in his home country of Eritrea before the war erupted with Ethiopia.

However, he said there are many differences between operating a business in Eritrea and in the United States.

“In Africa things are much more laid-back,” Solomon said.

Solomon said in Eritrea there were no banks or credit systems.

He said if a person wanted to start a business, they would borrow money from a friend or relative.

So when he came to the United States, he had no credit history – and that was a big problem.

Solomon said in order to establish credit he acquired a credit card immediately after arriving in the United States.

But that’s not an option for all immigrants.

The Islamic religion decrees that Muslims can’t pay or receive interest.

Somali business owners Nure Barre and Hassan Ali said they could not find any loans that did not require interest payments.

And without access to start-up funds, many Muslim entrepreneurs discover it is difficult to establish their shops despite a strong market.

Barre and Ali are opening Karama, a Somali bazaar on the West Bank.

They said many things their community needs, such as traditional clothing and books, are not provided by popular commercial stores.

But they refuse to pay interest, so they must start their businesses without the help of traditional commercial banks.

That’s just one more difficulty in an already complex process.

Solomon said in his native country, owners do not have to fill out so many forms. Liquor and food licenses are not required.

In the United States, business is much more competitive, he said.

“You have to really understand the concept of business here. We’re learning now as we go.”