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COLUMBIA – Refugees and immigrants are helping Missouri’s economy grow. According to Center for American Progress, immigrants create demand for small businesses and strengthen the economy. From 2006 to 2010, there were 11,414 new immigrant business owners in Missouri.

Nezir Memic, a Bosnian refugee, is one of those business owners. 

Memic immigrated to Columbia with his family in late 2002 when he was 20 years-old. He said he didn’t know right away that he wanted to own a business, but he knew what he wanted to do.

“I always like trucks as a little kid and it was something that I really wanted to get into,” Memic said. “When I first come here to United States, I see all of those big trucks driving on the highway and I was like, ‘wow! So many and so big. How they do it?’”

In 2006, Memic started Laser Transportation, a trucking business that transports general freight across the United States.

Columbia Refugee and Immigration Services Office Manager Senad Music, a Bosnian refugee, helped Memic’s family settle in Columbia. Music immigrated to Columbia in 1992 and has been working with immigration services ever since.

“Refugees, including myself, when we come to America, it is good opportunity to start a better life,” Music said.

Columbia's City of Refuge website states more than 8,000 refugees and immigrants come to Mid-Missouri. Each year, an average of 150 new refugees come to Columbia.

Music said some of the refugees and immigrants he helps settle choose to start their own businesses because they see it as an opportunity to help their family and the community.

“You have to kind of look for something that if it makes you more money, you can support your whole family and just live American life and American dream,” Music said. “They also do have obligations to this country to kind of payback something, you know.”

According to a report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, immigrants make up about 28 percent of small business owners are two times more likely to become entrepreneurs than the native-born population. In 2010, immigrant-founded small businesses generated more than $775 billion in sales and $100 billion in income and paid more than $126 billion in payroll taxes across the country.

Memic said there are multiple reasons why he decided to become an entrepreneur.

“Number one, I can control my destiny. Number two, I can get things done much faster and quicker,” Memic said. “And number three, I can give back to the community.”

Memic said since his company has been successful, he can help donate to charities and his kid’s school fundraisers.

“I wouldn’t be able to do that if I had a job that pays eight bucks an hour,” he said.

Music said since he started working with immigration services, he has seen 20 to 30 businesses created by immigrants.

“People are always starting businesses, restaurants, truck company, paint company. You name it, you can find immigrants there,” Music said.

He said immigrants contribute a lot to the community because they are paying taxes and creating jobs for others.

Memic is just one of the many small-business immigrant entrepreneurs in Missouri.

According to a study done by the Kauffman Foundation, on average, immigrant-owned small businesses each employ about eight employees and collectively provide jobs for about 4 million people in the United States.

Memic employs 15 people now and is in talks of hiring more people. In addition to his trucking company, he runs a small business – in commercial real estate.

Memic said he is always looking to hire more people, not just because of the demand, but because he understands the need for a stable job.

“That’s what I like to do and it makes me happy. And when I see the smile on somebody’s face, it makes me more happy,” Memic said.

Other immigrant-owned businesses in Columbia include U Knead Sweets, Café Poland, Olive Café, Bangkok Gardens, and more.