How immigrants are reinventing and reinvigorating Rustbelt cities

Today, many once-dominant industrial cities are taking steps to attract immigrants and refugees as a way to reverse a half-century of population decline.

This summer, WE Global held its third annual convening in Dayton, Ohio, a city heralded for immigrant-centric policies including instructing police not to ask about immigration status when they pull someone over.

The meeting gathered 300 economic development, government, and nonprofit leaders, who discussed building upon the contributions that immigrants and refugees make to their adoptive homes.

Action is being taken to welcome this demographic, officials note. In Cleveland, Ohio, a pair of city councilmen have proposed placing refugees in rehabilitated homes to reinvigorate run-down west side communities — a plan that has garnered support from Mayor Frank Jackson.

Detroit’s Global Detroit initiative, meanwhile, has raised millions of dollars, which will in part fund retention efforts aimed at international students.

These [immigrants] are a hard-working population,” says Rebecca Mayhew, relationship manager at the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI), a Columbus-headquartered nonprofit offering small-business loans to immigrants and other would-be entrepreneurs. “They’ve been the economic drivers of cities for generations.

If the Rust Belt aims to reclaim its former growth and vibrancy, then skillful immigrant entrepreneurs and refugees willing to join the labor force must be part of the equation, proponents say.

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