CINCINNATI -- Perhaps no issue of this year’s election has drawn as much heated debate as immigration, yet Mayor John Cranley has no qualms saying he wants the Queen City to be America’s most immigrant-friendly city.
The Cincinnati Compass website is one way he hopes to ease immigrants’ assimilation into the Tri-State. This online portal launched Tuesday and gathers more than 130 resources in one place for all sorts of immigrants, including international students, highly skilled professionals, refugees, undocumented laborers and green card holders.
“Legal immigration is a way to increase our population and has been a key to success for cities like New York and elsewhere,” Cranley said, adding that immigrants bring new perspectives, diversity and productivity to our region. “A lot of it was my own belief in American values, and we want to welcome people who are pursing the American dream.”
The website is really a beta version that will continue to morph as the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber adds new resources and works toward creating a staffed Center for New Cincinnatians in the near future, said Mary Stagaman, senior inclusion adviser for Chamber.
“We have left open the question of when and if there might be a separate brick-and-mortar space for this,” Stagaman said. “There are many services that are directly connected to immigrants in neighborhoods where they have the greatest need. We want to be careful about not duplicating, so that will be an evolutionary process.”
What about fears we've heard in the political arena this year that immigrants are pouring over the borders, taking “our” jobs? Stagaman said she respects those concerns, which “come from a place deep inside,” yet she says the “facts of the situation” will balance that anxiety.
“Immigrants are holding jobs that the natives don’t want to do," Stagaman said. "They’re picking apples in Washington. They’re taking care of landscaping at office parks in Cincinnati. These are jobs that would go open without the benefit of immigrants. On the other end of the spectrum, highly skilled immigrants are filling jobs that we have open and don’t have enough supply to fill the demand. More than 11 percent of IT (information technology) workers in this region are foreign-born.”
Foreign-born immigrants make up just 4 percent of Greater Cincinnati’s population, yet Stagaman said they are disproportionately entrepreneurial when compared to those of us born in the United States. Between 2000 and 2013, foreign-born business owners accounted for all the growth in "Main Street businesses" (neighborhood services like convenience stores, florists, dry cleaners, etc.) in Greater Cincinnati, according to data obtained by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
“At it’s simplest, if you’ve taken the risk and left behind everything you have in a home country to start over, sometimes with nothing, then you may have taken the ultimate risk, so what’s so hard about starting a business?” Stagaman said. “I think they may be more risk-tolerant than some of us natives are.”
Many of those immigrants initially land in coastal cities that turn out to be too crowded or expensive for their tastes, meaning they often seek greener pastures. Seven out of 10 of Cincinnati’s foreign-born population come here from other parts of the U.S., so Stagaman said the Center for New Cincinnatians is part of Cincinnati’s effort to be more intentional about immigration and retention.
Alongside unveiling the online portal at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber (3 E. Fourth St.), Cranley and members of the Chamber will discuss the task force’s other major work since first announcing its goals Oct. 29, 2015. This work includes the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati (MARCC) ID card program, which makes photo ID cards available to immigrants, homeless people, those getting out of prison and others who don’t have access to traditional government ID.
Another success Stagaman points to is City Council’s ban on “wage theft” among companies it contracts with on large development projects. Wage theft is the term used when an employer refuses to pay workers money that they are owed by stealing their tips, refusing to pay overtime, requiring employees to work "off the clock" or simply withholding pay.
READ the Cincinnati USA report here or below.