Government

Cedar Rapids leaders discuss action plan for engaging immigrants

Rolling out the welcome wagon

Molly Hilligoss, Midwest regional manager with Welcoming America, presents #x201c;Welcoming Cedar Rapids,#x201d; a strat
Molly Hilligoss, Midwest regional manager with Welcoming America, presents “Welcoming Cedar Rapids,” a strategic plan for engaging area immigrants, on Wednesday, December 4, 2019, at the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance. (Thomas Friestad/The Gazette)

Cedar Rapids city and community officials say they’re ready to do “more than talk” in engaging local immigrant populations.

Representatives from the not-for-profit Welcoming America, of Georgia, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach on Wednesday unpacked “Welcoming Cedar Rapids” — a strategic plan outlining “short-term catalytic actions” local leaders could take to empower immigrant residents building lives in the area.

The report was a multi-month effort by numerous city representatives and community groups, with support from New American Economy, a New York-based research and advocacy organization, which earlier this year chose Cedar Rapids as one of 14 local governments nationwide for its third pro-immigration Gateways for Growth challenge.

On the whole, the report found, Cedar Rapids offers immigrants “excellent opportunities,” including low cost of living and quality education.

Still, the report continued, the population faces barriers to advancement. Those range from cultural differences in workplace expectations to feelings of isolation from existing business networks, including access to capital.

“We all know that there is a huge economic imperative for welcoming,” said Molly Hilligoss, Midwest regional manager with Welcoming America. “We also know that there’s a huge cultural imperative for welcoming, and when those two spaces can come together ... . This is the right thing to do.”

The strategic plan breaks down into three focus areas, each with their own sets of proposed actions:

• Creating a welcoming community

• Strengthening workforce and education

• Supporting business development and entrepreneurship.

Among the proposals were creating a website to connect new arrivals with local resources, a physical welcoming center and multicultural business support groups.

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Other actions included disseminating resource guides to local educators, so they could better advise immigrants on secondary and post-secondary education options, and support for local employers in implementing legal best practices for recruiting and hiring immigrants.

The action plan is not an all-encompassing document for addressing immigration-related issues on a national scale, said Eric Christianson, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach field specialist.

“What we really wanted to focus our energy on (are) targeted, high-value actions that are really going to get the ball rolling on a lot of things,” he said. “There’s already a lot of great stuff happening, so what’s the next step that we can take in those different areas over the next year or so to really get things moving here?”

The strategic plan follows the city’s unveiling of a financial impact report in late October, with research showing immigrants contribute millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to the local economy.

Linn County immigrant households in 2017 contributed $53.9 million to federal taxes, $26.1 million to state and local taxes, $35.4 million to Social Security and $9.2 million to Medicare.

That year, the county’s immigrants also composed 15.1 percent of its science, technology and math, or STEM, labor force as well as 8.7 percent of its manufacturing workforces, helping to create or preserve 440 local manufacturing jobs.

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

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