Immigrants and refugees strengthen regional economy

We know the critical role that immigrants and refugees play in Buffalo Niagara’s workforce and economy.

For instance, last month, I blogged about the importance of easing the H1B Visa Cap as part of a sound, economic development strategy that focuses on the contributions of the foreign-born.

As the great granddaughter of an Irish-born immigrant, I can personally speak to the long tail benefit of the multi-generational impact that these new residents can have on our economy now and in the future.

Immigrants Graphic - Source IEDCI spoke extensively about that in this Business First article on the subject.

In fact, an influx of immigrants and refugees account for Erie county’s population increase.

The county’s population as of last April was 922,835, an increase of 0.4 percent from the 2010 census, according to a new set of county population estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Even more interesting is that Erie County was the only county in Western New York to see a population increase in the first four years of the decade.

So, how did it happen?

According to the Census Bureau, 12,196 people from other countries moved to Erie County between 2010 and 2014. This number more than makes up for the loss of 8,394 longtime residents who moved out of the region during that time.

“It shows once again the continuing success we’ve had in creating and growing the county,” Poloncarz said in this article.

June 11 small biz statAccording to the New York State Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, 6,294 refugees settled in Erie Country between 2010 and 2014.

Similarly, the International Institute of Buffalo estimates that about 500 other refugees move to the city every year after first being resettled in other communities.

These new residents bring challenges as well; overcoming the language barrier is difficult for both employers and schools. In the 2013-14 school year, it was estimated that there were 63 languages spoken at Buffalo Public Schools.

Many communities have struggled with this reality, and here in Buffalo we see the not-for-profit human services sector really providing support.

From organizations like Journey’s End, to the work being done by the International Institute, we are already seeing the benefit to our community.

Refugees not only help grow the city’s population, they help strengthen and add to the region’s entrepreneurial spirit by starting businesses.

Grant Street is a prime example of a region in the area that has benefited tremendously from the influx of this population; it is now filled with immigrant-run businesses which help strengthen Buffalo’s economy and cultural diversity.

West Side Bazaar (credit: Visit Buffalo Niagara)
West Side Bazaar (credit: Visit Buffalo Niagara)

Beyond the economic benefit of population growth, creating a more diverse culture is one of the things that’s attractive to millennials.

Many communities including Columbus and Detroit are working hard to grow this population as you can see by this website. Similarly, Mayor Brown opened an Office of New Americans this year for non-native born in City Hall.

In order to continue this trend of in-migration, we need to both provide and clearly communicate the opportunities that exist for immigrants and refugees to flourish and grow.

The short term investments in cultural sensitivity training, English language fluency, and job training will pay the region many dividends in the generations to come.

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About Dottie Gallagher-Cohen

President & CEO