Dayton made a big bet on immigrants revitalizing the local community, and a new report suggests Ohio’s growing foreign-born population is helping fill labor gaps, start businesses, create jobs and boost government coffers.
Foreign-born Ohioans contribute billions of dollars each year in local, state and federal taxes while also pumping billions more into the economy as consumers, says a new study from the Partnership for a New American Economy, a national group that advocates for immigration reform.
About 122,400 people in Ohio are employed at firms owned by immigrants, while more than 27,600 immigrants are self-employed, the report said.
Dayton’s immigrant-friendly policies are a smart strategy for economic growth and reinvention, especially considering that communities increasingly need immigrants to fill jobs in high-skilled and high-demand fields that are important pillars of the modern economy, officials said.
“Immigrants help us stay competitive as we continue to find workforce development solutions,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
Critics, however, say the report only showed the positive economic impact of immigration while ignoring the costs foreign-born residents have on governments, taxpayers and local communities.
“They presented a balance sheet that only contained estimates of the economic contributions of legal and illegal immigrants to Ohio, but decided to leave out the other side of the ledger — the costs,” said Dave Ray, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports restricting immigration. “And the cost of immigration to Ohio is substantial.”
On Wednesday, representatives from the city, business groups, higher education and other groups held a press conference announcing the findings of a new report from the Partnership for a New American Economy.
Nearly 481,000 Ohio residents were born abroad, or about 4 percent of the state’s population, the study said. The state has about 98,000 undocumented immigrants.
About 11,800 people immigrated to the state between 2010 and 2014. In 2014, immigrant-owned businesses in Ohio generated more than $530 million in business income.
Locally, immigrants continue to make economic, civic and cultural contributions that play an important role in the revival of the center city, Whaley said.
Immigrants also are moving into run-down neighborhoods and making investments, which raise property values and reduce crime and other problems.
But Ohio spends nearly $880 million per year on services for illegal immigrants, including education, health care, criminal justice, public assistance and other government services, said Ray, with the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
And that does not include the costs of educating and providing services to legal immigrants, he said.
“Looking at these numbers, it’s clear that mass immigration is an enormous unfunded federal mandate on the taxpayers of Ohio, which costs each citizen household in Ohio almost $200 per year to support,” he said.
But immigrants can help address the problem of job shortages in critical industries and sectors, said Stephanie Precht, director of public policy and economic development for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce.
“In 2014, 17.6 STEM jobs were available for every 1 unemployed STEM worker in Ohio,” she said.
International students represent a significant and growing share of STEM-degree holders, officials said.
Between 2008 and 2012, Dayton had the second largest percentage increase nationally (+202 percent) in its international student population, said Michelle Streeter-Ferrari, director of the University Center for International Education at Wright State University.
Dayton is now one of the top 10 metro destinations in the United States for foreign STEM students, she said.
Dayton is home to some immigrants who have earned national recognition for their business ideas and endeavors, such as Dr. Ayman Salem, who works out of the Entrepreneurs Center downtown.
Salem came to America from Egypt on a student visa in 1998. He earned permanent residency in 2010 for an “outstanding scientific” achievement.
Today, he is the CEO of a nine-person company called Materials Resources LLC, which evaluates and predicts material performance based on microstructure using high-tech equipment.
Salem says there is a large shortage of skilled workers in this country in the STEM and information technology fields, and foreign-born students and workers can help fill the void.
“They come here and work very hard and fill a gap that we need,” he said. “If they don’t come to the United States, another country will attract them.”