By Whitney Burney
Meridian Times staff writer
The increase in Michigan State University’s international enrollment has opened economic growth opportunity for Meridian’s businesses.
Over the past year, enrollment of international students has risen by 8.5 percent, the majority from Asian countries. The increase is driving more economic profit for the surrounding areas including Meridian, causing new businesses to thrive.
“We benefit from their culture by learning about it, exposing our kids to diversity while in school and it’s a great economic opportunity for Meridian,” said Julie Brixie, Meridian Township’s treasurer. “Typically, an international student will have to buy a lot more while here than the average MSU student. Most of their electronics don’t work here in America and many need transportation.”
In addition, the students demand products that most American grocery stores don’t carry or have access to.
“We opened only three months ago,” said Ingrid Zhang, Sakura Market store manager. “We get a lot of MSU student shoppers.”
The store owner says the store gets about 50 customers per week. Sakura Market sells items exclusively from China, Japan and Korea. Customers can find a wide range of products in the store.
“We sell everything,” said Zhang. “We have protein powder, makeup, Chinese food and even soap.”
Across the street, a karaoke bar has opened and also sees a lot of business from the surrounding Asian community.
“We have been open for three years,” says Li He,the owner of Limit Pool & Karaoke Club. “Friday is our busiest day. We have a lot of students come in, mostly international, for the karaoke and pool and we sell some small food like noodles.”
Although many new businesses have appeared in order to cater to the Asian population, there are competitors that have been around for a quite a while like Oriental Mart next door.
Oriental Mart is the largest Asian grocery store in the area. It has had three different locations and has provided foreign foods for the community for a little more than 10 years.
At Oriental Mart, you can buy things that you would normally only find overseas. They sell items such as fresh chicken feet, pork liver, whole squid and a variety of flavored soybean paste.
“We carry about 95 percent different items from Meijer, so there’s no competition,” said Bowen Kou, owner of Oriental mart.
“A lot of our customer’s are Asian,” said Kou. “The younger customers buy a lot of hot-pot stuff, snacks and a lot of Chinese drinks. They also like to buy the cooking sauces.”
“I buy everything here but I mostly like to buy Asian snacks,” said Suiman Sheng, a Michigan State University student from China. “It reminds me of home.”
Since opening 10 years ago, the market has become one of the biggest Asian groceries and has since gained many American customers as well, explained Kou.
“We have been a home for an active Asian community for the last 30 years,” said Brixie. “And we want to continuing building what we call a positive cultural exchange here in Meridian. I would like to see us build a cultural wing like how some cities have areas called Chinatown.”