Champaign County research to reveal impact of immigration on economy

By Molly Zupan, Staff Writer

Some would say the current political climate in the United States is rather cold to waves of immigration from foreign countries. Champaign County on the other hand, is welcoming immigrants with open arms.

Throughout the next few years, collective efforts from the University YMCA, Research Park, the Champaign County Economic Development Corporation and the cities of Champaign and Urbana will carry research focused on local immigrants to the next level.

On Sept. 12, Champaign County was granted participation in the Gateways for Growth Challenge. Along with 24 other communities, Champaign-Urbana was recognized as a place that demonstrates an effort to shine a light on the positive influences brought by the immigrant population.

Associate Director of Research Park, Laura Weisskopf Bleill, described Champaign as a “place that celebrates differences.” Bleill stated that the research and data about the workforce in the community is essential to understanding the major contributions to our economy by immigrants.

Demographic data analysis, economic studies and in-depth interactions with local immigrants will form the foundation of the research.

Communities with high immigrant populations and supportive foundations, such as Champaign County, were granted resources and assistance from the New American Economy (NAE) and Welcoming America.

Resources provided for further strategy research include quantitative research reports, on-the-ground technical assistance and planning grants from NAE that local partners have agreed to match.

The Gateways for Growth Challenge began in 2015 to motivate communities to create resourceful and inclusive environments for newcomers so that they could contribute to economic stimulation.

Cities such as Chicago, Memphis, Little Rock, and San Diego were also selected to participate in this nationwide challenge. This was the second round of the grant announcements. Indianapolis, Columbus and Pittsburgh were three of the cities selected for the first round in 2016.

Research and planning has just begun. The University YMCA, Champaign County EDC, Research Park, and the cities of Champaign and Urbana have teamed up to create strategies for effective immigrant integration.

Craig Rost, executive director of the Champaign County EDC, said, “One of the goals is to invite people in and provide them with the resources that they need.” Rost was invited to join the collective effort by Mike Doyle, the executive director of the University YMCA.

The Gateways of Growth Award will be officially granted to Champaign County once the research and planning is complete.

The University YMCA Communications Director, Megan Flowers, expressed that Champaign County’s diverse population is not entirely a result of the University.

Although the University attracts individuals from all over the world, “a lot of immigrant families and refugees have been moving into the area from places like the Congo, Latin America, Central America, Mexico, Guatemala and East Asian countries, for various reasons beyond the University,” Flowers said.

The University YMCA has successfully opened doors for local immigrants by creating the annual Welcoming Week. Every fall, Welcoming Week brings together immigrants and locally-born residents to enhance cross-cultural understanding and raise awareness of the benefits of a unified, diverse community.

According to an NAE Press Release from 2017, the President of NAE, John Feinblatt, stated, “While Congress debates the values of immigration, in city after city, the evidence is already in — immigrants revive neighborhoods and drive economic growth.”

The NAE is a collection of Democratic, Republican and independent business leaders who support immigration reforms that will boost local economies and produce jobs.

In an NAE Press Release from 2017, Executive Director of Welcoming America, David Lubell, said, “Inclusive economic strategies that take into account both U.S. and foreign-born communities make cities more vibrant, attractive places for all residents.”

The other group, Welcoming America, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that is pushing a movement that promotes the creation of inclusive communities. The group focuses on enhancing the quality of life for immigrants.

The communities of Champaign and Urbana were chosen to collaborate on such a significant project because they have the strengths, skills and dedication to do so.

The research and planning for well-integrated communities for everyone, despite race, socioeconomic status, or origin, has begun. Only time will tell what this new initiative will prove about the role of immigrants in Champaign County.

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