Friday, July 22, 2016

Immigration and Economic Development

By Ranada Robinson, Research Manager

Yesterday, Market Street participated in the ACCE webinar entitled Immigration and Economic Development: A Regional Approach. It was moderated by Kate Brick with the Partnership for a New American Economy. This bi-partisan organization is dedicated to changing the discussion on immigration to include why making sure immigrants are successful should be a priority in economic development efforts. Contrary to many of the negative stereotypes circulating in the media about immigrants and erecting walls to keep them out, immigrants and foreign-born residents continue to make a significant impact on this nation. During the webinar, Ms. Brick shared these statistics:
  • Immigrants make up roughly 13 percent of the nation’s population but started 28 percent of all new US businesses in 2011.
  • Over 40 percent of Fortune 500 businesses were started by immigrants or their children.
  • These companies employ over 10 million workers globally.
  • Immigrants are over-represented in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math employment and are more likely to study in STEM fields than native born Americans.

The webinar featured two speakers: Jason Mathis, Executive Vice President of the Salt Lake Chamber, and Mary Bontrager, Executive Vice President of Regional Workforce Development and Education at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Here are just a few of the ways these communities and a couple others that were highlighted during the webinar are welcoming and embracing immigrants and their entrepreneurial pursuits.

In 2011, the Utah legislature passed a bill that allows illegal immigrants to apply for a guest worker permit if they pay a fine for being in the country illegally. However, the bill has been highly contested. The program start date has been pushed back over the years, and since the state has not obtained a federal waiver to ensure its constitutionality, lawmakers are now contemplating the law’s repeal. Proponents of the law maintain that it is vital to ensuring that Utah has a strong workforce, particularly in agricultural occupations.

Most recently, the Salt Lake County Government and the Salt Lake Chamber have joined together to launch a New Americans Task Force that includes over 60 private sector, government, and community leaders. Its goal is to develop policy recommendations to make the area more competitive for international talent and business, including supporting proposed reforms to streamline immigration policies. 

According to Immigrant Business, in 2014, immigrants contributed $8 billion to Salt Lake County’s economy. Additionally, from 2009 to 2014, foreign-born population growth in the county has outpaced overall population growth by nearly 15 percentage points. 

In 2011, leaders from throughout Central Iowa engaged Market Street to facilitate a dynamic strategic planning process that would become known as Capital Crossroads. The strategy resulted in ten focus areas called “capitals”—one of these is the Social Capital, which encapsulates leadership development, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and community capacity and civility. One of the most aggressive implementation efforts that Market Street has seen in its 19-year history, Capital Crossroads leaders immediately established work groups and have begun many of the initiatives that were recommended in the strategy. In 2015, the Greater Des Moines Partnership announced the launch of the Des Moines Immigration Initiative, which intends to develop policy recommendations to increase and support Des Moines’ immigrant workforce and advocate at the local, state, and federal levels. 

In 2014, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley launched a Task Force on Immigration to develop recommendations to make the city more immigrant-friendly. The Task Force included business leaders, workforce representatives, faith leaders, and representatives of local service organizations and was divided into five subcommittees: education and talent retention, rights and safety, economic development, international attractiveness, and resources and development. In 2015, the Task Force released its report, which includes 14 short-term recommendations and 9 long-term recommendations. One of its major recommendations is the creation of a Center for New Cincinnatians that will require the involvement of many key partners, including the City, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, and the University of Cincinnati. The goal of the center is to easily link immigrants with services, both online and via a physical space.

According to the webinar, five percent of Cincinnati’s population is foreign-born, and 8 percent of business owners are foreign-born. In fact 21 percent of the city’s Main Street business owners are immigrants, evidence that immigrants are vitally important to the economy.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced in 2015 a new public-private partnership aimed at attracting and retaining skilled immigrant workers and increasing Louisville’s global presence. Global Louisville is supported by the Metro Louisville government and Greater Louisville Inc., the regional chamber of commerce. The nonprofit will work on developing ways to retain students who are on temporary visas, increasing foreign student enrollment, and assisting immigrants looking for employment. This supports one of the goals in the 2014 Advantage Louisville Strategy, facilitated by Market Street: Cultivate Greater Louisville’s Diverse Talent.

According to Global Louisville, 5 percent of the population are foreign-born as are 5.1 percent of the employed workforce. However, immigrants are overrepresented in several areas: they make up 7.5 percent of all STEM workers, 12.9 percent of professional and business services employees, 15.3 percent of art, entertainment, and hospitality employees, 18.2 percent of workers in manufacturing, and 18.5 percent of education and health employees.


It is clear that ignoring immigration or even fighting immigration would be detrimental to the American economy—particularly when the concept of America was based on providing an asylum and new way of life for immigrants. Statistics show that it is untrue that immigrants are a drain on our economy—when “new Americans” are given a chance to thrive, they truly do, through filling workforce gaps and starting businesses. 

Evident across the country in our client communities is the desire to leverage the increasing diversity, not dampen it. What makes America great is the strengths, skills, knowledge, and perspectives of all of the diverse talent present in this country. Our differences make us better—we’re able to accomplish more together celebrating these differences than as a monolithic unit. It is important that communities continue working hard to develop strategies to embrace and support the workforce, including immigrants.