By BECKY KARK
EDlTOR AND GENERAL MANAGER
Bing Goei knows what it’s like to be an immigrant — a stranger in a strange country. He also knows, first-hand, how to become a successful business and community leader in that strange land.
Goei, who now serves as director of the Michigan Ofﬁce for New Americans, spoke about the role immigrants play in the state‘s economy, as part of the South Haven Speakers Series earlier this month.
“Our conversation is becoming negative,” he said, regarding the recent political movements to restrict the number of immigrants that can enter the United States. “We have the knowledge, technology and resources, but we have to get beyond stereotypes…l believe our economy is unsustainable if we don’t recognize that it’s for everyone, especially as everything is becoming global.”
Goei and his family left Indonesia in 1954 and sought political asylum first in the Netherlands and later in America where they ﬁnally arrived in 1960 in Grand Rapids. “My dad was an educator, my mother, a small business owner,” Goei said. “My dad was being told what to teach (by the Communist-run government). He felt it was against the well-being of children. At that time, the government was allowing people to leave. We had to leave with the proverbial suitcase and that was all my father, six boys and my mom was pregnant. It was a courageous decision.”
Goei went on to become a successful entrepreneur by getting involved in the ﬂoral business. In 2001, he purchased the bankrupt Eastern Floral in Grand Rapids and rebuilt it to become one of the top 50 Teleﬂora businesses with six locations in Holland, Grand Haven and Grand Rapids. In 2014, Gov. Rick Snyder chose Goei to lead the new Michigan Office for New Americans, an agency established to tap into the talents of immigrants for the betterment of the state and its economy.
“The governor recognizes the valuable contributions immigrants have made,” Goei said. “He wanted the state to maximize the talents of these individuals by making Michigan a welcoming state.” As director of the Office for New Americans, Goei focuses primarily on providing opportunities for immigrants to become entrepreneurs.
“Immigrants are two to three times more likely to start a business than U.S. born citizens,” he said. In Michigan, he said the immigrant population comprises 6.5 of the state’s population. Conversely, 10.4 percent of the state’s immigrants own businesses. Over the years, immigrants have made an impact on the state’s economy in other ways. “Immigrant businesses generated $1.8 billion in net business income in 2010,” he said. In 2014, immigrant household income totaled $19. billion, giving them a total spending power of $14.2 billion.
“They buy cars, homes, all the things we take for granted,” he said. He ended his speech with a prediction made by the U.S. Census Bureau. “By 2043, the majority of the U.S. population will be people of color. We can fear it or celebrate it. We need to know how to use that as an asset rather than making it a liability.”
The presentation on Immigration from Bing Goei was well attended. Here’s the video and some photos from the event.