“Immigration is critically important,” says Dr. Ioanna Morfessis, an economic development expert who has helped create 200,000 new jobs as the founder of three high-profile American economic development organizations: the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore; the Greater Phoenix Economic Council; and the Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Economic Development. “Immigration is the bedrock of our nation and has driven how our country has grown, how we have built our economy, and how we have strengthened our ability to compete in the world economically, socially, and culturally,” she says. “It’s absolutely critical to the economic vitality of every city, every county, every state and every company in our country.”
Morfessis helps companies and organizations grow. “My work has always been mission-driven,” she says. “When I started my own business, I wanted to make sure that whatever we did had a meaningful impact, not just on the company or community we were privileged to work with, but, more importantly, for the people working in those companies or living in those communities. I wanted our work to make a true difference in shaping the destiny of a community or helping a company become even better. That way, they can offer better earning opportunities for people that work for them today, and for their workers of the future.”
Immigration is the bedrock of our nation and has driven how our country has grown, how we have built our economy, and how we have strengthened our ability to compete in the world.
Part of that job entails embracing immigrants. It’s a topic that’s close to Morfessis’ heart. Her father immigrated from Greece, as did her maternal grandparents. Together her parents launched and developed a construction company that designed, built, and equipped more than 1,200 restaurants, country club and hotel kitchens, and dining rooms in the Washington, D.C., area. “My father had no formal education and my mother’s formal education ended at junior high, but their work ethic and commitment to their family, employees, community, and country was incredibly strong. They underscored the importance of civic duty and giving back, and, of course, the number one thing they stressed to my siblings and me growing up was education, education, education.”
Morfessis is the first person in her family to obtain a college degree. Eventually, she earned her PhD in public administration at Arizona State University. As an economic development professional, she has helped numerous cities and counties — from Washington, D.C., to Phoenix — map out strategies for economic growth. To date, Morfessis’ has helped stimulate new job creation and $30 billion in private capital investment in those markets. She received the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Economic Development from the International Economic Development Council.
Morfessis strongly believes that global business demands the kind of diversity and free flow of ideas that come from robust immigration. “The total integration of the global economy, as well as hyper-connectivity across the world, mandates that we be open to new ideas and new ways of doing business,” she explains. “That includes accepting people from different cultures, ethnicities and walks of life. Immigration is diversity. Diversity brings strength. It brings creativity. It brings advancement in the economy, advancement in science, advancement in ideas. Immigration in the United States is the fount of our diversity.”
“My parents contributed to building the American dream,” Morfessis says. “And they lived and attained the American dream. I think my parents personified what immigration is all about: People come to this great nation to create a better life for themselves and their families and to be able to make their mark in the world. I feel very blessed to have had very humble immigrant parents who showed just what you can do in the United States of America. They, like millions of other immigrants before them and after them, exemplify why immigration is absolutely crucial to the vitality and spirit of our country.”