Impact of ethnic minority businesses in Birmingham

City-REDI, University of Birmingham

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide academic insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2017 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 8: Enterprise of the Birmingham Economic Review which can be found here. You can read the full report and report summary here.

The West Midlands has a long history of minority ethnic entrepreneurship, involving many different minority communities.

The region has undergone major economic restructuring over the three decades, with the relative share of employment and wealth generation transferring from the manufacturing sector to service sectors, with increasing significance of self- employment in these sectors.

This has happened alongside profound changes in population. The diversity and make-up of ethnic groups and has led to some significant entrepreneurial opportunities for the West Midlands region, and Birmingham.

While Pakistani, African-Caribbean and Indian owned businesses have long been a common sight on our high streets and in our town centres and have been for some time, more recent generations of businesses tend to be Somalian, Polish, Lithuanian and Romanian. In particular, EU enlargement in 2004 led to a proliferation in businesses run by East European migrants.

Many ethnic minority businesses in Birmingham now actually go beyond the stereotypical retail and catering sectors. Such businesses include recruitment agencies, graphic designers, marketing agencies and large food factories. Not only have these provided jobs for migrants, they have also, in some cases, provided jobs to British workers who were previously unemployed. In some areas of the city previously run-down streets have been transformed when migrant businesses move in, paying rates to the local council.

Whilst ethnic minority businesses in the city appear to be flourishing it is vital that the right help is available to not only help them to start and grow, but also to diversify into more high value activities, such as those above.

Here in the West Midlands, for example, the work of the Ethnic Minority Business Forum has been key in raising the awareness of the importance of minority ethnic companies in terms of the support offered by organisations such as Business Link and a range of important initiatives, notably in terms of export and overseas trade.

There is also the Asian Business Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) which was formed in 1987 and today acts as a gateway for any organisations looking to target the West Midlands Asian business community. The ABCC specialises in the business needs of Asian businesses in Greater Birmingham and is the most influential group of its kind in the West Midlands. Excellent relationships have been built with both the public and private sectors to benefit members and the city as whole, to increase business opportunity and enterprise in general.

In the East European community, the Midlands Polish Business Club was formed in 2012 and is a network of Polish professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners whose aim is to promote Polish products and services in the UK. The organisation already has over 100 members who meet to share experiences and contacts to develop the Polish business community.

Despite these positive initiatives and a significant ethnic minority business community in Birmingham, a challenge remains as to how major organisations, aside from publicly funded organisations, view ethnic minority entrepreneurs - in particular, the finance industry. A further challenge facing East European owned businesses is the impact that Brexit may have on their businesses, not only through a possible loss of client base and finance but also their sense of cohesiveness in their communities within Birmingham.

Dr Catherine Harris
City-REDI, University of Birmingham