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Tigers on the rise, Asian-American business booming

The Record / Business

Tigers on the rise, Asian-American business booming

By: Joan Verdon

Record_5_17_06

Lorna Chen was recruited to become a real estate broker 25 years ago by Fort Lee brokers who realized she had two valuable assets: an interest in the then-emerging condominium market and fluency in three Chinese dialects. Those brokers “recognized the Asian market was going to become a huge force,” said Chen. After working for other companies, she founded The Chen Agency real estate brokerage with her son Nelson in 1997, The company is now one of the leading Realtors for Bergen County’s Gold Coast, handling more than $94 million worth of transactions in Fort Lee, Cliffside Park and Edgewater last year. The Chens see their business as more mainstream American than Asian-oriented. “Actually, this is the United Nations market,” said Nelson Chen, pointing out that the company serves clients who speak everything from Russian to Korean to English with a native New Jersey accent. The Chens are part of an Asian-American entrepreneurial explosion occurring in the United States, with New Jersey in the forefront of the trend, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A Census Bureau report released Tuesday found that the number of Asian-owned business in the country grew 24 percent between 1997 and 2002. Nationwide, Asian-owned business generated more than #326 billion in revenues in 2002, up to 8 percent from 1997, according to the report. New Jersey placed fourth in terms of total number of Asian-American-owned firms, behind only the nation’s three most populous states: California, Texas, and New York. It also ranks fourth in the percentage of business with Asian-American owners, with 2.4 percent, behind Hawaii, California, and the District of Columbia. In New Jersey, the number of Asian firms increased 25.4 percent from 1997 to 2002, and their revenue was up 10.5 percent. Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon called the report “ another indicator” that minority entrepreneurs are “engines for growth in our economy.” Nationwide, Chinese-Americas represent 26.3 percent of the Asian business owners counted by the Census Bureau. Asian Indians are the second-largest group, followed by Korean and Vietnamese business owners. In New Jersey, Asian Indians represent 43 percent of the Asian business owners, followed by Chinese, 24 percent, and Korean, 21 percent. Bergen County led the state with the most Asian-owned firms, Middlesex, Hudson, Monmouth, Morris, Somerset and Passaic counties. The Census Bureau listed Bergen County as having almost 11,00 Asian-owned firms, but said only 2,738 of those firms were large enough in 2002 to have paid employees. The spread of Asian-owned businesses in North Jersey is especially evident in downtown business districts in Fort Lee, Palisades Park and Leonia, where store signs in Japanese, Korean and Chinese are common. In downtown Passaic, Indian video stores, groceries and restaurants have replaced German delis and Polish bakeries along the Broadway shopping street. Yellappa N. Moorthi opened a restaurant, Udupi Kitchen, on Broadway in Passaic in December. He said he had worked in the restaurant business in California and decided to open his own restaurant after moving to New Jersey. He said starting a business has been tough, but he is hoping it will pay off as “ more people learn we are here. We’re 100 percent vegetarian.” In North Jersey, banks have responded to the growth of Asian entrepreneurship by adding tellers and customer service representatives who speak Korean, Japanese, Chinese and other Asian languages, and expanding their presence in neighborhoods where many Asians live and work. In the past seven months, business loans to Asian-Americans accounted for 30 percent of the total number of Small Business Administration loans in New Jersey, said Harry Menta, a spokesman in the Newark office. Charlotte, N.C.,- based Bank of America has made the most SBA loans to Asians in New Jersey in recent months, making 158 loans for $8 million in the period from Oct. 1 through April 30. PNC Bank, of Pittsburg, did the largest dollar volume to Asians in New Jersey, lending $13.9 million in 66 loans. Broadway National Bank in Fort Lee made 62 loans for $10.1 million. In 2005, overall SBA loan approvals in New Jersey were up 29 percent from 2004, while the number of loan approvals for Asian borrowers was up 35 percent. Though some of the Asian-American businesses – especially those owned by recent arrivals – cater mainly to fellow immigrants, a growing number have moved into the mainstream. For instance, Nelson Chen is what his mother calls “ an ABC – American-Born Chinese.” He’s graduate of the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, and he believes other second-generation Asian sons and daughters will continue the entrepreneurial boom. “I think the pressure’s on the next generation to succeed further,” he said. “But it will be hard to match what their parents did.” 05/17/06b

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