Ani Agnihotri, chairman of the Asian-American Heritage Foundation, and Dr. Jeffrey Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the Selig Center for Economic Growth, Terry College of Business, the University of Georgia, at the foundation's gala.

As the featured speaker for the Asian-American Heritage Foundation’s gala dinner May 18, the University of Georgia economist Jeffrey Humphreys began with a sigh of relief.

During the course of a year, he said that he gives 30 to 40 speeches with the majority dealing with the economy and the recession of the past few years.

For the gala held in the atrium of the SunTrust Plaza Garden downtown, however, he was to speak about the growth of the Asian-American consumer market in the U.S., which he said was “more upbeat” than his usual fare.

“Asian-Americans are energizing the U.S. consumer market as they never have before,” he added, saying that they were reshaping “the commercial and retail landscape of America.”

And he came with a textbook of figures to back up his claim showing that their consumer preferences were somewhat different from the population as a whole.

Asian-Americans spend more, he said, on restaurants, shelter, clothing, public transportation, education, pensions and social security, primarily because they live in urban areas and their incomes tend to be higher.

He added that Asian-Americans suffered less monetary losses from the downturn in housing prices than many Americans because most rent instead of owning homes.

The director of economic forecasting at UGA’s Selig Center for Economic Growth, Dr. Humphreys began tracking the growth of the impact of Asian-Americans on the consumer markets of both the nation and Georgia in 1990.

At that time, the consumer market in the U.S. associated with Asian-American buying power amounted to $117 billion. By 2012, it had grown to $718 billion.

If the Asian American consumer market was a country, he said that it would rank the 20th largest in the world.

Like the country as a whole, Georgia has seen the growth as well, he said, in keeping with its ranking as having the 13th largest Asian-American population among the states and having what he termed “one of the nation’s rapidly emerging consumer markets.”

Its consumer market ranked 12th in size among the states last year, he said, adding that in 1990 “it wasn’t even on the radar.”

When he began tracking the buying power of Georgia’s Asian-Americans in 1990, it amounted to about $1billion. In 2000, it was $4 billion and last year stood at $13 billion.

“That’s a 213 percent increase since the beginning of the century,” he said of their buying power, which he defined as after-tax personal income available for spending on an annual basis.

Despite this buying power’s growth in the state, it represents only 4 percent of Georgia’s market share in comparison to 5.9 percent nationally.

He tied much of the growth to Asian-Americans “favorable demographics” that were abetted by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that favored skills and family relationships over national origin.

In 2000, he said the Asian-American population in the country was 11.1 million while last year it had grown to 17.2 million.

Asian-American buying power since 2000 rose by 164 percent as opposed to 60 percent for whites, he added, with Asian-Americans earning 21 percent more than the average earning American.

Asian-Americans were hit hard by the recession like everyone else, he added, having lost half a million jobs, but have recovered more rapidly and now have an unemployment rate of an enviable 5 percent.

He also said that the prospects for Asian-Americans’ increasing their prosperity are favorable since slightly more than 50 percent of the population are in their mid- to late-20s and haven’t attained their main earning years.

Also 31 percent have bachelor or graduate degrees, which substantially benefit their earning power.

Founded in 2003, the heritage foundation brings together a cross-section of the state’s Asian communities and recognizes the accomplishments of individual members.

Beheruz N. Sethan, who retired at the end of 2012 as president of the University of West Georgia, was honored for overseeing the school’s transition from a small liberal arts college of a full university.

He was the first person of any ethnic minority to become president of a university in Georgia other than a historically black college. He also is the first person of Indian origin ever to become president of a university anywhere in the U.S.

Other individuals recognized included:

Atlanta attorney B. J. Pak, who was born in Seoul, Korea, and serves as a state representative for the 108th district in the Georgia General Assembly. He is the first American of Korean origin to be elected into any state legislature in the Southeast.

State Rep. Stacey Y. Abrams of the 89th district and House minority leader; K. J. Tan, president of Tan and Associates and foundation board member; and John Lu, president of Lucky Corp.

Ajit Kumar, India’s consul general based in Atlanta, also was recognized. Fabian De Rozario, past president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals, served as the master of ceremonies.

To learn more about the Asian American Heritage Foundation, click here.