LSE Cities research highlights role of migrant entrepreneurs

8 March 2016

Research by academics based at LSE Cities, a research centre at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), highlights the important role played by migrant entrepreneurs in socially and economically deprived parts of UK cities, finding that migrant proprietors on multi-ethnic streets across Birmingham, Bristol, Leicester and Manchester play a vital role in generating local employment, as well as contributing to social exchange.

The paper, Migrant Infrastructure: transaction economies in Birmingham and Leicesterexplores the local retail economy on Rookery Road in Birmingham and Narborough Road in Leicester, both areas of high unemployment and deprivation. The research team, including Suzanne Hall, Julia King and Robin Finlay, conducted a face-to-face survey complemented with a series of interviews with migrant proprietors on each street, finding that a significant number of jobs are generated in these areas.

The 157 business units in the Rookery Road area surveyed as part of the study reveals an estimated 456 jobs in the business units, while in Narborough Road in Leicester this figure was estimated at 814 jobs. This provides vital economic activity for comparatively deprived urban areas with high rates of unemployment. In total, 86% of the retailers on the mile-long Rookery Road are independent, and 60% of the jobs were held by non-family members, making the street an important economic and social resource that spans across the diverse countries of origin amongst the proprietors. The comparative study across four cities also revealed high skill levels amongst the migrant entrepreneurs, with 78% of proprietors on Cheetham Hill in Manchester having achieved tertiary education level, and 93% speaking more than one language.

The local economy in the Rookery Road area also defies the reputation of urban retail being short-term and transient —the study presents in part a relatively stable micro-economy, with around a third of the units sustaining their businesses for more than twenty years, although around one third of proprietors have been on the street for five years or less. Overall, the 12 countries of origin that are represented in Rookery Road are the product of a 40 year history of migration to Birmingham, reflecting the long duration of migrant histories in the ongoing formation of many UK cities.

diverse streets infographic

Dr Suzanne Hall, Project Lead for Super-diverse Streets, said: “This research identifies the significance of migrant micro-economies in providing vital economic and social assets in deprived urban areas, which have often suffered from long-term underinvestment from the public and private sectors.

“There are hundreds of streets like these across UK cities, yet their complexities, their regulatory relations and their contributions remain poorly understood. While our research shows that many independent migrant retailers are often excluded from jobs in the formal sector, street-based retail provides a foothold into the city as well as a crucial spectrum of economic and civic life within local areas. The challenge remains as to how local authorities recognise these diverse environments as valuable to urban vitality in economic, social and cultural terms.”

The research is part of a larger ESRC Future Research Leaders grant on ‘Super diverse Streets: Economies and spaces of urban migration in UK Cities’ (ref: ES/L009560/1)