STL Looks to Immigrants for Population, Workforce Boost

By on April 3, 2017

From St. Louis Post-Dispatch:  After looking at some new census numbers last year, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis added two new employees, almost doubling its staff to five people. One of those new workers is solely devoted to growing membership.

“We learned there’s 3,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, and we don’t even have 10 percent of that (as members),” said Hispanic Chamber President and CEO Karlos Ramirez, who has headed the organization for six years. “When I started, it was me and a secretary.”

Strengthening business and social networks among ethnic minorities is what demographers and immigration experts say ultimately attracts new immigrants. When people put down roots and feel part of a community, family members and others with a similar ethnic makeup tend to follow.

The entry points of the country — cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Miami — are still taking in the bulk of new immigrants, but their offspring are increasingly looking beyond those cities.

“That’s been spreading out over time, and it depends on social networks and family networks and recruitment policies on the part of businesses and local communities,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

For the last several years, St. Louis business and political leaders have looked to immigration as a salve for the region’s stagnant population and economic growth. After a 2012 report citing the region’s low attraction to immigrants compared to other cities, they launched the Mosaic Project to help integrate immigrants and ethnic minorities into the region’s economy. They’ve touted the work of the International Institute of St. Louis, which resettles refugees and offers English classes and other services to new residents.

But with what many view as anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of President Donald Trump’s administration — through cuts in the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. and talk of curbing both the number of immigrants and those admitted through a visa program for high-skilled workers — the region’s task just got harder.

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