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Uzbek immigrant starts his own taxi business in Chapel Hill, fosters national pride

Daisy Kaur, a sophomore, reads a Legos brand book to Professor Jennifer Larson's three year old son, Colin, while his mom teaches an English class in Greenlaw. Daisy says she had Professor Larson last semester and now she helps keep an eye on Colin every once in awhile.

When Ulugbek Kasimov arrived in Chapel Hill from his native Uzbekistan, he didn’t know how to drive.

Now, 11 years later, Kasimov runs a local taxi company.

“I learned how to drive, and since then, I’ve been driving a lot,” he said with a smile.

Kasimov, who has a master’s degree in linguistics from the Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages in Uzbekistan, worked his way through jobs at Panera Bread, Papa John’s Pizza and Chapel Hill Taxi before branching off in 2007 to establish his own company, Carolina Taxi and Shuttle.

Charles Becker, an economics professor at Duke University, said few immigrants come to the United States and start a business, and he finds Uzbek entrepreneurs especially impressive.

“If anyone’s going to do it, they’re going to be Uzbeks,” he said.
“They’re industrious, they’re hardworking, they’re good people.”

Kasimov, a self-proclaimed social entrepreneur, uses his business as a platform for fundraisers that benefit students.

In the spring, Carolina Taxi held a fundraiser for the Eve Carson Scholarship, which awards two rising UNC-CH seniors half the cost of attendance for their senior year and $5,000 for a summer experience.

The campaign raised about $450, Kasimov said.

“I think serving the community has to be one of the parts of any successful business,” he said.

Uzbeks in Chapel Hill

There are 15 Uzbek families in the Triangle, and three families in Chapel Hill, Kasimov said.

“We hang out on the holidays together,” he said. “We do picnics, get-togethers.”

Becker said the Uzbek community is so small that growth is hard to measure.

Kasimov is a founding member of Uzbek Initiative, a group which seeks to promote Uzbek culture and interests.

He is also a managing editor of Vatandosh, a biweekly newspaper published in Uzbek and geared toward nationwide Uzbek and Central

Asian communities.

Behzod Mamadiev, news editor at the publication, described Kasimov as compassionate, helpful and focused on serving the Uzbek community in the United States.

“Whenever we met, issues related to our community were the main topic of our conversation,” Mamadiev said in an email.

“He was very eager to talk about how to develop our Uzbek community in all aspects.”

A growing business

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Kasimov remains active within the Uzbek community, but he also focuses on growing his business and maintaining rapport with his customers.

Javlan Babajanov, co-owner of Carolina Taxi, joined the company last year after graduating from UNC-Greensboro’s MBA program. He emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2006.

“One of the things that I like about this job is we have a lot of regular customers,” Babajanov said.

Many Carolina Taxi customers are students, Kasimov said.

“You get to meet a lot of drunk students,” Kasimov said, adding that his company charges extra when students vomit in the taxis.

“I like the student vibe here,” he said. “It almost makes you feel young.”

Carolina Taxi’s fleet has grown from two vehicles 10 months ago to three minivans, two black sedans and a silver Lexus, Kasimov said.
Students should not use taxi companies that offer the cheapest price, he said.

Rates in Chapel Hill range from $2.50 to $3.50, and Carolina Taxi charges $3.50, Kasimov said.

“I don’t deliver on price,” he said. “I deliver on value.”

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