ABEC report finds AAPI businesses are rapidly growing, but not all thrive equally

Report show AAPI business outlook influenced by immigration status, educational attainment, and language proficiency

June 18, 2024

Boston – A new report released today by the Asian Business Empowerment Council (ABEC) at The Boston Foundation, revealed that despite Asian-owned businesses in Massachusetts growing by a remarkable 187 percent in over the last two decades and contributing $3.9 billion in payroll to the Commonwealth’s economy each year, social determinants, including immigration status, educational attainment, and language proficiency still play a significant role in business owners’ experiences and have resulted in a stark divide in perceptions of business conditions since 2019.

The multi-year report, Setting Roots in Rocky Soil: The State of AAPI-Owned Businesses in Massachusetts, was released in partnership with the Asian Community Fund and the Institute for Asian American Studies at UMass Boston. The multi-year report consolidates survey conducted in Chinese, Khmer, Vietnamese and English and focus group findings from 262 AAPI business owners whose responses indicated:

  • About 41 percent of immigrant-owned businesses feel that business conditions have become worse or much worse over the past year, while only 21 percent of non-immigrant Asian-owned businesses share this sentiment.
  • Business owners that took the survey in a language other than English (68 percent) were more likely to report worsening conditions than those who completed the survey in English (25 percent).
  • Of Asian business owners with a college degree or higher, 42 percent believe business conditions have improved, compared to just 26 percent of those without a college degree.

This report builds on findings from A Snapshot of Asian-Owned Businesses in Massachusetts and provides new insights on the business conditions, challenges and opportunities AAPI-owned businesses are encountering.

One such challenge is navigating the funding application processes and accessing capital critical to essential business financing is a major concern reported by approximately 80 percent of Asian-owned businesses. Despite the desire for assistance, only 23 percent of survey respondents received a form of technical assistance, such as help with a grant application, in the past year. ABEC reports creating pathways for technical assistance is vital to improving business conditions for AAPI-owned businesses.

"Through this report we have been able to collaborate directly with those in the AAPI community to identify the challenges they face. AAPI business growth has outpaced the growth of AAPI demographic growth in Massachusetts, which means the needs of this community are also rapidly growing.," said Qingjian “Q.J.” Shi, director of ABEC. "Understanding barriers to success is crucial for ABEC to effectively elevate and advocate for AAPI business owners and to remind our neighbors that we are not a monolith—we are not the model minority, but we are also very ambitious and resilient, and we need support. This report has been critical in creating recommendations for policies and statewide initiatives that uplifts the AAPI community.”

“AAPI business owners help fuel our state’s economy and it’s crucial that we invest in their success,” said Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao. “Our administration is committed to providing opportunities for entrepreneurs in historically under-resourced and immigrant communities and offering vital assistance that may otherwise be out of reach for many of these business owners.” 

"This report is groundbreaking in its analysis of the diverse experiences of AAPI business owners in Massachusetts,” said State Representative Tackey Chan, House Chair for the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure. ”Not only will it provide comprehensive, honest insights into the unique challenges these business owners face, particularly in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but it will also help us identify ways we can uplift and assist them in navigating the state's ever-changing business landscape going forward. I want to thank ABEC for their diligent work collecting this information and bringing it to the forefront.”

“Asian-owned businesses are vibrant and resilient fixtures in our communities. Understanding the challenges impacting these establishments, many of which were exacerbated by the pandemic, directly informs our work at the state level,”  said State Representative Tram T. Nguyen, Vice Chair of the Massachusetts House Asian Caucus. “Better data will help guide policy decisions targeted at improving working conditions, combating anti-Asian discrimination, supporting our community members, and helping our small businesses flourish,” 

“The Massachusetts economy is a complicated ecosystem of employers, large and small, that support each other. This mutual dependence supports economic development, growth and innovation and is critical for the future vibrancy of the Massachusetts economy. As this important new report from the Asian Business Empowerment Council finds, AAPI businesses are an essential component of this equation, contributing more than $3.9B in payroll to the Massachusetts economy.” said JD Chesloff, President & CEO, Massachusetts Business Roundtable. “The Roundtable celebrates the achievements and resiliency of these AAPI small business entrepreneurs, the majority of whom are immigrants, and welcomes this report as a comprehensive and tactical roadmap to ensure that AAPI owned businesses thrive and strengthen the Massachusetts economy.” 

As a part of the multiyear report ABEC has provided recommendations for how the business community, legislators, private and public funders and partners, and the Commonwealth can continue to expand its support of AAPI businesses, including:

  • Investing in language and culture specific technical assistance by working in coordination and collaboration with AAPI-serving community-based organizations.
  • Strengthening AAPI and non-AAPI networks will help AAPI businesses access new revenue sources, widen customer bases, secure contracts, and connect with diverse advisors. Broadening the AAPI business network will offer much needed  peer support, shared experiences, and a sense of belonging, ultimately helping AAPI businesses thrive.
  • Increasing access to small business loans and non-traditional lending to include multilingual/multicultural support for AAPI businesses. 
  • Significantly increasing anchor institutions spending with AAPI businesses to help them break into new networks and grow their capacity. 
  • Advancing language access and inclusion by offering business advising in various languages.

The report was released at The Boston Foundation and featured remarks from Paul Lee, Founder and Chair of the Asian Community Fund Steering Committee; Rep. Tackey Chan, Chair of the Massachusetts House Asian Caucus, Anne Kiyono Calef, Research Fellow at Boston Indicators and Primary Report Author and Segun Idowu, President and CEO of the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts. The event featured a panel discussion, moderated by Q.J. Shi,  on the report’s data and solutions with panelists Nancy Daniel, founder of Madhrasi Chai; Jason Solomon, vice president and Equity Alliance for Business relationship manager for Eastern Bank and Anu Yadav, executive director of Women of Color Entrepreneurs.