Attracting immigrant talent essential to city economies, Coletta says – Knight Foundation

Attracting immigrant talent essential to city economies, Coletta says

Cities should compete to attract and retain immigrants, because nothing does more for a community’s economic future than talent, Knight Foundation Vice President Carol Coletta said Monday.

Coletta, who heads Knight’s Community and National Initiatives program, was speaking during a session on “Welcoming Cities” at the National Immigrant Integration Conference being held through Tuesday at the Hilton Miami Downtown. Being welcoming is not just an attitude, it’s an economic imperative, she said. The percentage of college graduates in a city explains 58 percent of the city’s success, as measured in per-capita income, she said. Cities are in a global competition to attract and retain them, she added. 

“If you don’t have a talent strategy, you don’t have an economic strategy,” said Coletta, a nationally recognized expert on cities.

“Immigrants,” who make up significant percentages of the country’s entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers and math graduates, “are a key part of the talent strategy,” she said.

As Coletta dove deeper into strategies to attract and retain talent, a more complex picture emerged, one that held notes of encouragement for those struggling economically. She cited research that showed that kids raised by poor families in economically mixed neighborhoods have a much better chance of becoming better off than their parents than those raised in universally poor, income-segregated neighborhoods.

Now, young, college-educated people are gravitating to core urban areas. They are attracted to walkable, transit-accessible, culturally diverse neighborhoods, and immigration is an essential part of the picture. Coletta underscored the potential of leveraging that trend to build more economically integrated communities and to expand opportunity.

 “Young people like cultural diversity, which may not have been the case for the older generation,” Coletta said.

Earlier, Knight President Alberto Ibargüen welcomed participants to Miami, “a city that is the living embodiment of what you can do with riotous immigration.” Just over half of Miami’s population is foreign-born, and the networks they bring cement Miami’s position as a gateway between North and South America, he said. The seminal Harvard Business Review study World Class emphasized that global networks could make cities thrive locally.

“It’s precisely because of immigration that we’ve gone from a beach town to a global city,” Ibargüen said.

Some cities clearly don’t need convincing of the role that immigrants play in economic development; seats at the Welcoming Cities session were covered with fliers from St. Louis and Philadelphia. “Regional Prosperity Through Immigration and Innovation,” the St. Louis flier said. “Our goal: To be the fastest growing U.S. metropolitan area for immigration by 2050.”

Andrew Sherry, vice president of communications at Knight Foundation

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