Welcoming immigrants helps cities succeed – Knight Foundation

Welcoming immigrants helps cities succeed

A soccer tournament from 2013 National Welcoming Week. Photo credit: Uniting NC.

Cities should roll out the welcome mat for entrepreneurial new Americans, because nothing does more to improve a community’s economic future than its ability to attract and retain talent.”

— Carol Coletta, VP, community and national initiatives, Knight Foundation

With President Obama’s visit to Nashville this week to recognize the efforts of that city to welcome immigrants and benefit economically as a result, the nation was reminded of a story that has the potential to play out in cities across the country. Related Link 

With support from Knight Foundation, Welcoming America – which was also recognized by the president during his visit – will now have the opportunity bring Nashville’s story to communities nationwide. We will expand our Welcoming Cities and Counties Initiative to work with leaders across the country to create robust local initiatives that ensure that immigrants are able to achieve economic mobility, participate civically and contribute more fully to the future of their communities.

A growing demand for inclusive cities

More and more, our cities are changing demographically – a phenomenon that’s not surprising in our increasingly global economy. How communities respond to that change and whether they’re able to leverage it to spur economic growth have been the focus of our work over the last five years.

What we’ve learned is that cities that intentionally plan for demographic change and focus on becoming more inclusive can reap economic benefits. In the case of Nashville, government, nonprofit and business partners have come together to invest in immigrant integration – most recently by establishing a Mayor’s Office of New Americans. Says Mayor Karl Dean, “We’ve worked hard to create in this city an example of what it means to truly welcome New Americans…. Diverse communities are the ones that have the best chances to thrive in today’s world, and Nashville is proud to be one.”

Nashville has benefited economically from its focus on immigrant inclusion; immigrants attracted to the region have increased the county’s housing wealth by nearly $1 billion over a 10-year span, and as natural entrepreneurs – immigrants are more likely to start a business than U.S.-born residents – are overrepresented among small business owners, according to recent data. Nashville’s success as a thriving city that led the U.S. in job growth in 2012 has also been directly linked to its welcoming climate, one that the Nashville Chamber of Commerce touts as among the city’s greatest assets. A more inclusive and diverse environment has also been a magnet for young people, helping reshape Nashville into what GQ Magazine has called “Nowville.”

Nashville isn’t alone. From Atlanta to Dayton, Ohio, Denver to Dodge City, Kansas, forward-thinking city leaders are recognizing that to attract and retain talent, they need a strategy in place that ensures that diverse people from across the globe are valued – and ultimately, want to stay, put down roots in the community, and invest in civic and economic life.

Helping cities gain a competitive edge

As more and more cities understand the competitive advantage of being more welcoming, they are launching similar efforts, and now, Welcoming America will expand its work to support communities with the tools, best practices and guidance they need to jumpstart their efforts to implement immigrant-friendly policy and practice and gain a leg up in the race to attract and retain global talent. Welcoming America’s network includes local government partners in nearly 50 cities and counties – a number we hope to triple over the next two years. In three years, our ultimate goal is to create a tipping point where it becomes the norm for local governments across the country to partner with nonprofit and private sector partners to create local agendas that advance inclusion and prosperity for all.

In the words of President Obama speaking in Nashville this week about welcoming initiatives, “This is what makes America exceptional: that we welcome strivers. We welcome dreamers from all around the world. And it keeps us young and it keeps us invigorated, and it keeps us thriving.… If we keep harnessing that potential, there’s no limit to what this country can achieve.”

Recent Content