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Immigration panel gets opinions from across the globe on entrepreneurship and diversity

On Tuesday, immigrants from all corners of the globe gathered to discuss their common roots in business in North Carolina.

The Center for the Study of the American South hosted their signature 2018 Chandler Conversation in Southern Business History. Panelists Utibe Udoh, Uli Bennewitz, Perla Saitz and Amit Singh were guided by moderator LaChaun Banks to discuss their stories as immigrant entrepreneurs who established themselves as businesspeople in North Carolina.

The Chandler Lecture was established in honor of historian Alfred D. Chandler to celebrate his interests in business, economics and sociology. The topic of immigration and entrepreneurship was chosen in order to highlight the unsung heroes of the American South.

Patrick Horn, who serves as the associate director for the Center for the Study of the American South, was responsible for organizing this event this year. While preserving the legacy of Chandler, Horn also sought out to transform this event into an open conversation. 

“This year we’ve shifted to more of a conversation format, so instead of a person standing in front of a podium, we have a conversation between panelists and the moderator,” Horn said. “That reflects a broader shift of our center towards conversations which we think are a little more dynamic and hopefully a little more interesting than a person talking at the audience for 50 minutes.”

Since the Center for the Study of the American South serves the University and the broader community, Horn reached out to students, faculty and community members alike. Before the panelists responded to questions from the audience, Banks moderated a conversation regarding topics such as assimilation and networking.

Bennewitz opened the conversation by discussing his journey from being born in Peru, raised in Germany, educated in England and eventually introducing a bill that sparked Eastern North Carolina’s microbrewing industry. He touched on how Americans tend to unnecessarily categorize immigrants.

“Only in America do you have African Americans, German Americans, English Americans, whatever,” Bennewitz said. “In Europe, you don’t have that. Either you’re British or you’re German. But you’re not a Spanish German. It doesn’t exist. It is an American thing that is unique to this country.” 

As a Nigerian immigrant, Udoh was able to overcome these perceived cultural barriers by starting his own African retail business establishment in Durham. He said that the key to making his business successful was to establish a strong network within the neighboring community.

“African Land has transformed from a store to a place where people come to talk about anything,” Udoh said.

Saitz and Singh shared their own experiences as immigrants from Mexico and India, respectively. Both touched on how the U.S. needs to invest more in STEM and language education, as they are key assets for businesses.

Moving forward, the Center for the Study of the American South will continue this conversation by educating the general community about the contributions of immigrants to the business arena. 

“We’ve been thinking about immigration for a long time because part of our center’s mission is to explore the diverse and changing South,” Horn said. “We want to think about who are these people in North Carolina who are contributing to our communities and economies, who are innovating and bringing new ideas.”

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