Business Survey Project

Building community, awareness, and understanding through commerce.


  • New American business owners
  • One volunteer in Fargo, North Dakota.

Desired Outcomes 

The Business Survey project aims to counter negative stereotypes and raise the profile of new American entrepreneurs’ small businesses.

How The Business Survey Project Builds Relationships

Barry revised his questionnaire as he came to understand how his question about total income made business owners uncomfortable.


  • No costs beyond transportation for the volunteer.

Time resources

First round of interviews took six months (January 2015 to July 2015), but Barry hopes to continue the project indefinitely. He conducted approximately 120 hours of interviews in the first stage. He planned for hour-long interviews, but they usually ran for about three hours.

Other Resources

Barry made strong relationships with many new Americans through his work at the Fargo Human Rights Commission, which gave him a strong start. He knew how businesses worked and what people want to know about businesses. To present the project, Barry asked someone to help him put together a PowerPoint presentation.


No official sponsor, but the survey was initially intended to provide information for a Lutheran Social Services conference

Our Story: "Building genuine connections with the business-owners should take first priority."
Barry Nelson conducted a business survey to meet two goals: increase awareness of new Americans’ start-ups and promote understanding and respect between new Americans and the long term resident community. Barry started the survey because he understands how hard new Americans work, from many years as Director of Refugee Resettlement for Lutheran Social Services in Fargo, North Dakota.  He knew many new Americans open small businesses, which are often not integrated into the local business community. Their shops and services receive healthy business from other new Americans and even serve as community centers, but longer-term Fargo residents rarely use their services. On top of this, some long-term Fargoans speak about new Americans as troublesome, burdens on the local economy.  Barry wanted hard numbers from a formal survey to correct this mistaken stereotype. He started the business survey in January, 2015, focusing on the retail sector. His long involvement in new American affairs in Fargo proved invaluable, because he could first interview business-owner friends in the new American community,

“It could have been done more quickly, but I was just having so much fun.”

and then ask them for introductions as a way to connect with more new American businesses. Barry insists that building genuine connections with the business-owners should take first priority for any such project, because better information comes once rapport develops.  Sharing meals always helps develop rapport. Barry conducted over 120 hours of interviews between January 2015 and July 2015, far more than he initially anticipated. He asked each business-owner three central questions: when did the business start, how many people the business employs, and what is the gross annual income of the business. After a number of interviews, though, Barry realized that the third question made many business-owners uncomfortable. Eventually he removed that question altogether. Barry found an initial audience for the survey results at the Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s annual Building Bridges conference in March 2015. He has also presented his results to the city government, the local Chamber and to staff at North Dakota State University, who wanted to share the information with students.  Even though he has shared a first round of results, Barry thinks that this survey should be ongoing. The need to increase awareness and understanding of the new American community continues to grow. He hopes the Chamber of Commerce will work more closely with the project and the new American community in general on marketing their businesses to a broader customer base. Breaking down barriers to new American businesses helps Fargo economically, and the understanding that grows from the integration of these businesses will prove invaluable.




Each business Barry interviewed received initial bumps in business from his work. Aside from the financial benefits, he now understands the necessity of these businesses in new American communities. He understands the businesses provide goods and services while acting as community centers for new Americans. As a result, the mainstream Fargo community understands the validity and necessity of these businesses. The project also connected and developed cooperation among new American business owners.


The language barriers while interviewing provided the most daunting challenge. Understanding that both parties must overcome the barrier constitutes the best method for overcoming the barrier. Barry warns that “[Americans] can be very shaming in the way we ask people if they speak English,” further exacerbating the language barrier. Determining the financial “tipping point” for these business-owners provides a substantial challenge as well.

Things to Remember

  1. Prepare questions, but develop rapport with respondents before asking them. The interviews should be personal and at least a little fun.
  2. Work with and within the new American communities. The project must promote their business first.
  3. Understand cultural and social interactions. Maintain a polite and friendly demeanor.

Learn more about this project from the people who created it: