Over his eight-year tenure as a state representative for Ohio’s 55th district, current Lorain County Commissioner Matt Lundy saw how the negative national discourse on immigration reform so easily trickled down to the local level. “Many elected officials have turned something unique and positive – opportunity and improvement for foreign families – into something so negative,” says Lundy, who served on the Finance and Appropriations Committee. Much of what he heard was shocking. “Some of my colleagues would comment that Lorain County had too many illegal Puerto Ricans,” he says. “And I said, ‘did you really just say that?’ I reminded them Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.” Lundy says this kind of basic misinformation demonstrates the government’s inability to move forward on immigration reform.
This is a problem that hits close to home for Lundy, whose family hails from Europe. His father’s family came to the United States from Germany to work on the railroads after World War I. His paternal grandfather drove a streetcar in Pittsburgh for 35 years. His mother’s side, originally from the Ukraine, settled in Pittsburgh and worked in the steel mills. It is people like his grandparents, he says, who sustain Lorain County’s auto-making, ship building, and steel industries. As important, they demonstrate an impressive degree of tenacity. “Would I be willing to pack my life in a suitcase and hop on a boat, without a home or job lined up? Immigrants are the definition of courage,” he says.
If more communities were willing to welcome foreign investment and immigrant entrepreneurs, we could stimulate a great deal of economic growth.
Instead of pushing immigrants away, we should be encouraging them to settle here, especially in places like Lorain. “When they come, they bring their kids with them. We should do all we can to make their transitions from Europe or Africa or wherever else, as smooth as possible.” The reason, he says, is that Lorain needs to boost its population and its economic opportunities. “We have to think of ways to kick-start development here,” he says. And so, Lundy recently collaborated with the local chamber of commerce, Lorain County Community College, and the county’s economic and community development departments to brainstorm initiatives. “It’s a pivot – not a big jump – to include and focus on immigrants in existing programming on innovation and entrepreneurship,” he says.
In order to keep Lorain County on the map as an Ohio community open to foreign investment, Lundy and his team are beginning work on a strategy to help graduating foreign students navigate the visa process and foster collaboration between foreign-born business owners and native-born entrepreneurs.
Frustrated by political unrest or tight business restrictions, immigrants leave their home countries in order to invest their money and ideas elsewhere. “The United States should encourage and support these folks. They come to our country for a reason,” Lundy says. He wants elected officials to think critically about their efforts to create jobs and attract businesses. Lorain County needs able companies that pay well and treat employees well – where the owner is from should not matter. “If more communities were willing to welcome foreign investment and immigrant entrepreneurs, we could stimulate a great deal of economic growth,” Lundy says.