Joe Reagan first became aware of the important role immigrants play in economic growth during his tenure as president of Greater Louisville, Inc., the city’s chamber of commerce. “I saw that welcoming people from all over the world was key to our economic and social success,” he says. Today, Reagan is the president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and has continued to witness the economic power of immigrants.
“Research shows that 60 percent of immigrants coming to St. Louis bring jobs and capital with them,” Reagan says. Many of these immigrants, he adds, tend to have comparatively high levels of education and work in high-skilled positions in the St. Louis job market. “Immigrants here work in health care, biosciences, financial services – across the board, really,” Reagan says. “They’re making important contributions to various sectors of our economy.”
Immigrants here work in health care, biosciences, financial services – across the board, really.
In the past decade, however, Reagan says St. Louis has started to miss out on international talent because of federal immigration policy. “We’ve seen a few of our companies open up international headquarters in other countries, like Canada, where they can access global talent much more easily,” he says. Seeing investments leave the region because of the obstacles posed by the American immigration system, Reagan says, is “painful.”
As the descendent of immigrants, Reagan is particularly disappointed by the country’s current system. “My great-grandparents emigrated to this country from Ireland, they worked hard in the steel mills, and became integrated into American society,” he says. “We need to be forward-looking and see how we can help the next generation of immigrants achieve the same American dream that we did.”
Reagan also believes that immigrants are key to reversing many of the problems St. Louis is currently facing, including stagnant population growth and a sluggish economy. For this reason, Reagan and other business leaders have made repeated appeals for reform to Congress. “We are strong supporters of a comprehensive immigration reform that helps St. Louis – and other American cities – get back our competitive edge,” he says.