Immigration is a Positive Force for Economic Growth in Cities

shutterstock_102409318Posters on metro buses and trains in St. Louis will now welcome you to the city in 17 different languages, one of the many initiatives begun by the St. Louis Mosaic Project to create an atmosphere that welcomes and encourages immigrants to the area. Signs in the public transit system aren’t just designed to look pretty, however, but acknowledge that for many immigrants, particularly those new to the St. Louis region, this is their primary means of going to work or school, shopping, and taking part in all the community has to offer. “The Mosaic Project says a lot about where our region is going,” St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley said. “We want to be more diverse and see things from different points of view.”

St. Louis is on to something, as a new report from the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and the Partnership for a New American Economy  makes clear. According to the study, immigrants help to preserve existing jobs, create new jobs, and stabilize or strengthen the housing market, which all help to rebuild local economies. The report highlights three key findings for the more than 3,000 counties across the United States:

Immigrants are creating and preserving U.S. manufacturing jobs. As the study shows, “immigration adds a talented workforce that helps bolster the manufacturing industry and protects U.S. manufacturing jobs. For every 1,000 immigrants living in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved that would otherwise not exist or have moved elsewhere.” Furthermore, the analysis reveals that America’s newer manufacturing centers are also immigration epicenters, and immigration to small towns has kept manufacturers in those places open.

Immigrants are increasing U.S. housing wealth to the tune of $3.7 trillion. In particular, the 40 million immigrants in the U.S. add $3.7 trillion to U.S. housing wealth nationally. In June, the two organizations released an interactive map as a precursor to the full report. As Immigration Impact previously reported, the map indicates “that immigrants, through their housing purchases and other economic activity, help stabilize housing values in communities that would have otherwise experienced declining home prices.”

Immigrants are making once-declining areas more attractive to the U.S.-born population. “For every 1,000 immigrants that arrive to a county, 270 U.S.-born residents move there in response. These residents are drawn by the increasing demand for service-oriented businesses ranging from restaurants to law firms and by the employment that is preserved in sectors like manufacturing.” The report also finds that immigrants are “boosting civic engagement through participating in their communities and in the military while creating American jobs through entrepreneurship.”

As congressional action on immigration reform lingers in limbo, many cities such as St. Louis clearly recognize the real-world contributions of immigrants to their communities and are actively pursuing strategies to attract immigrants and immigrant entrepreneurs, facilitate immigrant integration, and foster a warm and welcoming climate. Ultimately, it’s no surprise that places that welcome immigrants are also places that thrive. The Brookings Institution recently described the 10 traits of globally fluent metropolitan areas, one of which is “opportunity and appeal to the world,” where metro areas are “magnets to attract global investment, new businesses, skilled workers, entrepreneurs, immigrants, foreign students, tourists, and/or business travelers from around the world.” Leaders from the local level to the national must bear in mind what Brookings’ Audrey Singer and Jill Wilson note, that “immigration is a healthy sign that a region is viewed as appealing and opportunity rich…a place that welcomes immigrants and their families, allows businesses and workers to flourish, and creates an inclusive atmosphere presents unmistakable opportunities.

St. Louis is just the latest example of making those opportunities a reality, and signs in metro buses and trains are just a part of reaching out to immigrants in practical and daily ways. As County Executive Dooley stated, “We have to control our own destiny. In order to do that we have to make a sustained effort to be intentionally inclusive and welcoming.”

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