Immigrants and refugees: catalysts for economic growth

Cities around the country have begun to effectively support the impact of immigrants and refugees on their employers, economy and community.

For instance, did you know that for every seven international students enrolled in the U.S., three jobs are created or supported? Or that immigrants created 25 percent of all high-tech national firms from 1995 to 2005?

June 11 small biz statTo learn more, we hosted Steve Tobocman (Executive Director of Global Detroit,) Melissa Bertolo (Program Coordinator of Welcome Dayton,) and Eva Hassett (Executive Director of the International Institute of Buffalo,) for a conversation on how their cities are working to welcome and support immigrants as part of their economic revitalization strategies.

During the discussion, we learned about the efforts that cities undertake to help support this growing population.

For example, Chicago, IL rolled out The Chicago New Americans Plan that Mayor Rahm Emanuel calls a “road-map for building a thriving, diverse and welcoming Chicago.” The plan is aimed at building upon the economic contributions of its immigrant populations through the creation and expansion of immigrant-owned businesses, as well as the attraction and retention of foreign-born talent.

June 11 Immigrants photo2 TO USE
Russian physicians toured Buffalo’s medical corridor through International Institute of Buffalo’s international visitors program [Credit: IIB]
Dayton, OH, upon recognizing the consistent arrival of new residents, created Welcome Dayton, an initiative to make the city immigrant friendly through business and economic development, social and health services, and community, culture, arts and education.

Detroit, MI, embarked on an ambitious program of work which includes the Michigan Global Talent Initiative, Welcoming Michigan, ProsperoUS Detroit, Welcome Mat Detroit and Upwardly Global, a powerful group of projects designed to help the city reclaim its place as a flourishing multinational city.

New York, NY has released Blueprints for Immigrant Integration across a dozen categories including civic engagement, economic development and education.

Pittsburgh, PA introduced Vibrant Pittsburgh, which is built on the belief that metropolitan areas have an opportunity to build the capacity of their workforce from within, by investing in the human capital of immigrant residents. The organization strives to welcome newcomers as a critical component of a diverse talent pool.

June 11 photo collage
IIB places refugees with jobs (left: Liwam featured with Teddy from Lloyd Taco Truck; right: Ameer and Mawan) [Credit: IIB]
Cleveland, OH; Louisville, KY and St. Louis, MO are just a few other cities that are taking a proactive approach to immigrant-centric economic development.

In Buffalo, the International Institute of Buffalo (IIB) serves to welcome, support, and integrate the foreign-born through various programs, including their successful employment training program which boasts high placement and retention rates, as well as a nation-leading 92 percent self-sufficiency rate at 180 days*.

*This statistic means that within 180 days, the majority of local immigrants no longer depend on public assistance, proving they are an asset to cities and communities.

Considering the growing annual in-migration (approximately 2,000 per year) of this work-authorized population (which possess key foundational skills,) immigrants and refugees hold unparalleled potential for the Buffalo Niagara region.

June 11 immigrant photo3 TO USE
Bhutanese Nepali community members vote to prioritize needs for their new community organization (for many of them it was the first time they had ever voted) [Credit: IIB]
According to the Association of International Educators, there are 7,600 foreign-born students studying at area colleges and universities, which provide an economic impact of $175 million.

Beyond economic growth, immigrants and refugees bring vast riches in cultural vitality that has and will continue to create a more dynamic and vibrant Buffalo Niagara.

We will continue this conversation of how to share ideas and best practices with thought leading cities like Dayton, Detroit, Pittsburgh and New York.

In the meantime, we encourage those interested in learning more to check out the business case to immigrant-centric economic development in one of Steve Tobocman’s recent presentations.