Back in the late 1880’s, when America was truly considered a melting pot, Fredolin Wunderlich with no money in his pocket emigrated from Germany to Philadelphia. He tried his hand in farming, failed, then ended up in Western Pennsylvania working deep into the ground as a coal miner.
It was at this point in time that he became known as Fred Wonderling.
Approximately 80 years later, my father was the first of his generation not to have to spend most of his life underground. Like each U.S. citizen, I carry that rich family and ethnic heritage with me today.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are at least 350 languages spoken in America, with 6.1 million foreign-born people living here.
This sense of a fusion of cultures seems to be enhanced in metropolitan areas. Whenever I walk the neighborhoods of Philadelphia, I am amazed at how many different languages I hear and how many different cultures are woven into the city.
There are prominent examples such as Chinatown, which visibly makes itself known from landmarks such as the Friendship Archway on 10th and Arch, to the more nuanced ways that people from different places have made Philadelphia the metropolitan area it is today in neighborhoods like the Italian Market, Bustleton and Southwest Philadelphia.
Underlying the visible influences that immigrants have across our region is the economic impact of non-natives. According to the New American Economy, there are 614,660 immigrant residents in Greater Philadelphia, about 10.2 percent of the population. Remarkably, their spending power equated to $13.5 billion in 2014.
It isn’t only spending power that immigrants influence in our region. In Philadelphia, immigrants are 41 percent more likely to own a business than their U.S.-born counterparts, and immigrant entrepreneurs have been integral to the growth of the city’s neighborhoods and communities.
Clusters of these Main Street business owners — in areas like the Italian Market on Ninth Street, El Centro de Oro on Fifth & Lehigh, and 52nd Street in West Philadelphia —- have played a pivotal role in reversing or stabilizing population decline and revitalizing struggling business districts.
As citizens and influencers of our city, we need to support the growth that immigrants bring to our region. The City of Philadelphia is holding an immigrant Business Week from March 27-April 1, and the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia is hosting Roadmap For Growth: The Impact of Immigrant Entrepreneurship on Monday, March 27 in support of this initiative.
As Fredolin Wunderlich would say: “Wilkommen in Philadelphia”!
Rob Wonderling is president of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.