Peter arrived in the U.S. from Burma in 2007. Now, only ten years later, he owns a profitable real estate firm, has published a book for first-time home owners, and has founded a non-profit organization that supports the work of Burmese evangelists. Peter’s story is not unique among refugees and immigrants. Approximately 115,000 immigrants in Illinois are self-employed, and their businesses accounted for $2.6B in Illinois business income in 2014.* Refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs like Peter contribute to the local economy in measurable ways, but their impact on their communities extends far beyond the financial benefits. Peter’s story demonstrates how refugees and immigrants enrich their communities through their hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, and generosity.
Hard Work Pays Off
Before fleeing Burma, Peter was a student leader at his university and wrote for the school newsletter. He was targeted by the government because his writing was critical of government policies. He secured a tourist visa for the U.S. and when he arrived in 2007 he successfully applied for political asylum. Though he was relieved and thankful to be safe in the U.S., Peter’s first months in the country were difficult. He had arrived just before the 2008 recession and, as a result, was laid off from three jobs in a row. But he refused to be discouraged. Finally, in 2008, he started working at World Relief DuPage/Aurora as a Refugee Services Administrative Assistant. He was a valuable member of the staff for seven years, during which time he studied for his real estate license.
Refugees like Peter begin working at their first job, on average, only 60 days after they arrive in the U.S. Considering the challenges refugees often face, including learning English and accessing reliable transportation, this displays incredible resilience!
An Entrepreneurial Spirit
In 2013, while still working at World Relief, Peter started his own real estate firm, Build Pro Group. He works as a realtor, but also invests in property, buying homes, hiring contractors to renovate them, and then reselling them. Many of Peter’s real estate clients originally arrived in the U.S. as refugees, and he is passionate about helping them through the process of purchasing their first home. In 2016 he published a book in Burmese titled 145 Nuts and Bolts You Need to Know About Buying Your First Home to help Burmese refugees across the country make wise purchasing decisions.
Peter is one of many refugees and immigrants who have worked hard to overcome obstacles and start a business in Illinois. 56% of Fortune 500 companies that are based in Illinois were started by immigrants or their children, and it is estimated that nearly 300,000 Illinois residents are employed by immigrant-owned businesses. Peter’s business is also making a difference in the housing market as he helps other refugees and immigrants become homeowners. In Illinois one in six new homeowners are immigrants, which may help to mitigate the effects of baby boomers retiring and selling their homes. Owning a home is a sign of successful integration among refugees. In fact, 73% of Burmese refugees and immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for 10 years or longer own their home, compared to 68% of U.S.-born individuals.
The Power of Generosity
Peter’s story would be remarkable and inspiring if it stopped here, but the contributions that he has made through his business extend far beyond the economic benefits. Peter has leveraged the success of his real estate firm to start a non-profit organization, the Myanmar Center for World Mission. Through this ministry he uses a portion of his business profits to support the work of his brother who is an evangelist in Burma. His brother travels from village to village sharing the Gospel, and because of Peter’s generosity, each new believer is given a Bible. While the financial success of Peter’s business is impressive, that success has an immeasurable impact on lives around the world because of his desire to generously give back to the country he fled from.
Peter will be one of more than 20 businesses highlighted at our event on September 7th at 7pm, Spotlight on Refugee and Immigrant Entrepreneurs. Come join us at Highpoint Church in Naperville to hear many more stories of entrepreneurial spirit and community impact. Register here.
*Statistics taken from reports by the New American Economy, "From Struggle to Resilience"(2017) and Center for American Progress, “Refugee Integration in the United States” (2016).