Last week, officials in Dayton, Ohio gave unanimous approval to a plan to adopt an “immigrant friendly” economic approach.
They hope the campaign brings a two-fold benefit to the city and its dwindling population, which at approximately 142,000 residents, is at its lowest number in nearly a century. One, the officials hope immigrants can boost that sagging number. Two, they believe immigrants will bring economic benefits.
They’re not the only ones in the Midwest who believe immigrants can become economic drivers.
In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has encouraged highly educated immigrants to settle in the state. It’s an unusual position for an elected official in a state that’s lost more than 300,000 residents in the past decade and still holds a stubborn 11.2 percent unemployment rate.
“We’ve been in a recession for a decade,” Snyder tells Dan Rather Reports. “How do we really reinvent ourselves? One of the keys to how we build ourselves is immigration.”
Steven Tobocman, a former Democratic state lawmaker who recently authored Global Detroit, a report that formed the base of Snyder’s immigration policy, says that 32.8 percent of Michigan’s high-tech firms formed over the past 10 years have been founded by immigrants. Only six percent of Michigan residents are foreign born.
A study from the Small Business Administration notes that immigrants are three times more likely than native residents to start businesses and six times more likely to start high-tech businesses.
That’s not unnoticed in Dayton, where officials say they have already seen those sorts of benefits. Now they want to promote the city as immigrant friendly and envision the creation of an international marketplace.
“One reason the American dream is still alive is that people keep coming to us who believe in it,” University of Dayton professor Linda Majka tells the Dayton Daily News. “Dayton has the opportunity to get this right.”
Part of the benefits for immigrants in Dayton would include the creation of a municipal identification card for city residents who do not have another form of ID. Another portion of the campaign is a recommendation that police check immigration status only for suspects of serious crimes.
The initiatives in Detroit and Dayton run against the national grain, where many states are mulling proposals to toughen immigration laws – legal or otherwise — in some cases because local workers are fearful they’ll compete with immigrants for scarce jobs.
In Alabama, an immigration law considered by many as the toughest in the nation, recently went into effect. Business owners say significant portions of their workforces have fled the state. The exodus includes many who were legally documented workers.
“We believe that all our employees are legal, but they have told us, ‘We’re not going to stay in a place we’re not welcome,’” said Norm Moore, chief executive of Woerner Development Inc., which is part of the state’s $2.9 billion agriculture industry.
“They came here for the same reasons that most of our ancestors came here – for better opportunity,” Moore told the Mobile Press-Register. “We’ve always accepted people who want to better their lives, and now we’re doing something different.”
Proponents of the Alabama law believe it will add 1,100 jobs in the state by next spring.