CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa business leaders collectively entered the often vitriolic debate on immigration on Monday, calling on federal lawmakers to take meaningful policy action for the sake of Iowa’s economy and labor market, in particular to help address workforce shortfalls hampering many businesses.
Iowa’s slow-growing population coupled with “shortages of needed talent” have put Iowa’s economy at a tipping point with few “dial-moving, transformative” options, said Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. Immigration reform is one of the few solutions, he said.
Better immigration policy “could change by hundreds, perhaps thousands of employees at our businesses,” he said during a Monday morning news conference.
Neumann was among 40 Iowa business leaders signing the Iowa Compact on Immigration on Monday, including professors from Drake University, Iowa State University and University of Iowa; economic development leaders in Iowa City, Ames, Dubuque and Des Moines; and company officials from hospitals and manufacturing and agriculture sectors.
The initiative of New York-based New American Economy, a coalition of business leaders and mayors launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and media mogul Rupert Murdoch, aims to share stories showcasing the importance of immigrants to the economy and communicate the need of Iowa businesses to federal lawmakers. A second news conference was held in Des Moines on Monday.
“You have to start somewhere, right?” said Kyle Gingrich, vice president of operations at Cedar Rapids-based Apache Inc. and one of the compact signers. “We have to start engaging our policymakers and make them understand the critical nature of what’s going on. Particularly here. We’re a little bit of flyover country, so we need to be vocal. We have to get through to some of these people in Washington to make them understand what’s really happening on the ground.”
Gingrich identified labor as the biggest issue at his company, which has 160 employees in Cedar Rapids. In 2018, the company had 30 open positions — “a recipe for disaster when you’re trying to meet your customer demands,” he said.
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He said 85 percent of Iowa’s 157,000 immigrants are working age, which is a much higher percentage than Iowa’s population, “which means they contribute extensively to our company,” he said.
Data from New American Economy shows immigrants in Iowa pay $390 million in state and local taxes and hold $3.4 billion in spending power, according to a news release.
The group laid out six principles for immigration reform:
• Federal responsibility
• Policies prioritizing attracting and retaining international talent and a visa system that drives growth
• A sensible path forward for immigrants wishing to come to the U.S. and a permanent resolution for those lacking legal status
• A reasonable and predictable regulatory environment that considers the interests of and unintended consequences to businesses, the workforce and consumers
• Prioritize keeping families together
• Local policies ensuring all residents have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed
The group says it is trying to remain nonpartisan.
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