Community

Cedar Rapids immigrants' financial footprint, success stories showcased

From left: Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart; Carrie Walker, nonprofit network manager, Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation; immigrants Wafaa Bedreddeen and Jeremie Diame; Eric Christianson, field specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; and Kate Brick, director of state and local initiatives at New American Economy, stand at a community learning event on Wednesday at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy of Drew Morton)
From left: Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart; Carrie Walker, nonprofit network manager, Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation; immigrants Wafaa Bedreddeen and Jeremie Diame; Eric Christianson, field specialist, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; and Kate Brick, director of state and local initiatives at New American Economy, stand at a community learning event on Wednesday at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids. (Photo courtesy of Drew Morton)

The Cedar Rapids area immigrant population has left a significant financial footprint, worth millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs for the local economy, a recent research partnership found.

Cedar Rapids was one of 14 local governments nationwide chosen for the third Gateways for Growth challenge, an immigration attraction and retention initiative of New American Economy, of New York, and Welcoming America, of Georgia, which will supply research and technical assistance.

Using $25,000 in grant funds from the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, the city is working with the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach to create and roll out a multiyear strategic plan to further integrate immigrants in the local community and workforce.

Modern neighborhoods such as the Czech Village and New Bohemia districts got their cultural roots from immigrants who moved to Cedar Rapids in the 1870s, officials said.

The findings from the full plan, set to be published in early December, will help Cedar Rapids “continue that tradition of welcoming diversity” and also strengthen its workforce, the city’s Mayor Brad Hart said Wednesday afternoon, at a community learning event at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

“A shortage of qualified workers consistently ranks as the No. 1 issue for business growth in Cedar Rapids and in the Midwest,” he said. “Immigrants really can fill that workforce gap for us, and taking the steps that Gateways for Growth is going to help us take will allow our businesses to continue to be successful and tap into valuable workforce resources.”

Rohan Bhatnagar and Minouche Bandubuila were two local immigrant success stories Gateways for Growth spotlighted on Wednesday.

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A senior engineering manager leading a team of 13 at Collins Aerospace, Bhatnagar traveled to the U.S. from Lagos, on the coast of Nigeria, to enroll in 2008 at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, in Florida, where he received his engineering degree and MBA.

“People underestimate the importance of a strong social group for a new immigrant in the process of assimilation,” he said in a release. “That group that I had around me — my college friends, my work friends — it was instrumental. It’s kind of the main thing that made me succeed and got me to where I am in the community.”

In 2007, Bandubuila became one of 50,000 immigrants to receive a U.S. Green Card through the Diversity Visa Lottery, out of 13.2 million applicants. At that time, she was 23 years old and pregnant, and two years passed before she was able to start taking English classes and working as a hotel housekeeper.

Bandubuila now works as a home visitor with YPN’s Africa Parent Cafe, and said in a release, “When you are coming to the U.S., it depends on where you land. But you are the only agent of your happiness and success.”

In its research, New American Economy found that immigrants composed 47.1 percent of Linn County’s total population growth between 2012 and 2017. The county’s foreign-born population grew by 61.8 percent over that same time frame, to 9,576 immigrants, in 2017, with India, Mexico, Vietnam, Canada and China as the top five countries of origin.

In 2017, Linn County immigrant households earned a total $305.6 million in income, of which they contributed $53.9 million to federal taxes and $26.1 million to state and local taxes, plus $35.4 million into Social Security and $9.2 million to Medicare, the organization found.

And, the county’s immigrants made up 15.1 percent of its science, technology and math (STEM) and 8.7 percent of its manufacturing workforces in 2017, helping to create or preserve 440 local manufacturing jobs over the years studied, the research shows.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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