Friday, October 24, 2008

Rust Belt Immigration: Update

Time for me to clear the backlog of e-mail messages received from Richard Herman ...

The Great Lakes Region Coalition, a group of mega-regional Chambers of Commerce, purports to address issues of mutual concern such as a "comprehensive immigration policy." You can find details here. The Coalition explicitly supports Mr. Herman's idea about creating high-skill immigration zones in the Great Lakes mega-region. The overall platform for cooperation is both impressive and ambitious, providing a policy guide for the upcoming election.

Next up is a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer that has me excited:

Facing the kinds of job losses and abandonment known to Cleveland, Schenectady pursued a creative solution. It introduced itself to an immigrant group in New York City, lured curious couples north to view its impossibly cheap homes, and let capitalism and immigrant dreams run their course.

In less than a decade, people who hail from the South American nation of Guyana have become about 10 percent of the city of 62,000, and streets once considered worthless now stir with fussy homeowners.

"They breathed new life into this town," said Albert P. Jurczynski, the former mayor who marketed his city with bus tours and his mother-in-law's homemade cookies. "They changed Schenectady. And they never asked for a dime from anyone."

That's a brilliant strategy. Schenectady targeted a gateway city, New York, and enticed immigrants to make a secondary migration, establishing a pathway that should benefit the region for years to come. I've seen a similar dynamic at play in Eastern Pennsylvania, particularly Reading. The above article is full of clever solutions employed in a number of shrinking cities to address a wide variety of problems. I'm inspired.

Sticking with The Plain Dealer, banker Rose Zitiello thinks Cleveland needs to attract more immigrants:

" ... less than 4 percent of our residents [in Ohio] are foreign-born. We're not getting that constant influx of new ideas and energy. We're even behind in attracting migration from other states. Maybe we're not doing enough to welcome them."

Ms. Zitiello links anemic immigration to the relative lack of microbusiness enterprise in the region. Putting a thread through this blog post, she might advocate for the kind of policy Schenectady is pursuing in order to increase the number of foreign born living in the city or put her weight behind the Great Lakes Region Coalition.

Finally, also in The Plain Dealer, we get a comprehensive review of the gathering of Great Lakes Chambers of Commerce and the efforts spearheaded by Brookings:

Attracting immigrant talent. The region is losing skilled workers to retirements and brain drain.

It needs unique skills to accelerate promising industries, such as advanced energy and biomedicine.

To fill the gaps, business leaders want the federal government to try high-skill immigration zones in cities like Cleveland.

Visa caps would be lifted for foreigners who fill job shortages in critical areas, such as information technology and nursing, said Daniel Berry, a senior vice president at the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

He helped shape the chambers' immigration agenda and is among civic leaders who are pushing to attract more foreign talent to Greater Cleveland.

Daniel Berry might be a good contact for stakeholders in other Rust Belt cities looking to grow the numbers of foreign born. I hope that a competition for the same pool of talent won't emerge in the mega-region and any kind of policy change at the federal level demands a great deal of cooperation. Regardless, I'm pleased to see that the efforts of Brookings beginning to bear fruit.


The Urbanophile said...

Great article. I love the story about Guyanese immigrants. I'd bet any large city has a few clusters of groups, for example the Somali refugees in Minneapolis, that could be leveraged to similar effect with some encouragement.

Jim Russell said...

I've been thinking about how a city could do this over the last week, retracing Schenectady's steps in hopes of uncovering what made the program successful. I figure that there still must be an established intimate link between the two communities. In other words, one can't just randomly target any immigrant community and show them the value proposition.