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State & Local Initiatives

The role immigrants play in supporting economic growth and vitality is often most visible at the state and local level. Whether through bolstering population growth, revitalizing Main Street with small businesses, or increasing the number of patents and innovative ideas at state universities, immigrants have a positive and tangible impact in communities across the United States. But how states and localities approach immigration can determine whether those contributions are maximized or wasted.

NAE’s State & Local Initiatives program works with policymakers, business, and civic leaders to provide economic research, technical assistance, and advocacy towards policies and programs that create jobs and drive economic growth by unlocking the full potential of all workers, regardless of background.

States: Entrepreneurship & Innovation

While fewer Americans are starting new businesses, rates of entrepreneurship and innovation continue to rise among immigrants and international students. States that attract and retain international talent will win the race to create new patents, new technologies, and more jobs for all their residents.

Issue: Retaining International Talent

The American university system has long been a powerful draw for talented international students. These students make important contributions to the schools and communities where they study: they create patents at higher rates, are more likely to major in STEM fields than native-born students, add to consumer spending and the local tax base, and ultimately create jobs.

For international students, navigating the complex immigration process in order to stay as workers after graduation can be difficult. Removing barriers by building connections between employers, students, and universities’ career advising and international student offices can help more international students stay and contribute to their local economies as workers after graduation.

Opportunity: International Student Retention

Ohio and Michigan lead the nation in statewide efforts to attract and retain international students. Launched in 2015, the Ohio Global Reach to Engage Academic Talent (GREAT) initiative aims to increase the number of international students at Ohio’s universities to a total of six percent of the total student population. This increase is expected to support more than 17,088 jobs and contribute $1.2 billion to Ohio’s economy annually.1

Key Stats on Entrepreneurship and Innovation

  • Nationally, immigrants and international students are responsible for more than three quarters of all patents produced at top U.S. research universities.
  • Immigrants are twice as likely as the native-born to start new businesses.

Economic Impact of International Students in Select States, 2015

State & Local: Economic Impact of Intl Students

Int'l Share of Students
Contribution to State Economy
Jobs Supported

Opportunity: Global Entrepreneurs in Residence

In 2014, Massachusetts launched a first-of-its-kind program2 to tap into the innovation and entrepreneurism of graduating foreign students. Through the Global Entrepreneur in Residence Coalition, the University of Alaska at Anchorage, University of Colorado at Boulder, and five other universities now run the GlobalEIR programs to hire immigrant startup founders.

States: Competitive & Global Workforce

States have a choice: They can tap into the skills and talents of every worker or let that potential go to waste. Policies and programs that reduce barriers to labor market integration and draw upon the diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills of all workers will allow communities to thrive in the 21st century economy.

Issue: Brain Waste

More than 2 million immigrants across the U.S. with bachelor’s degrees or higher are working in low-wage jobs, costing families thousands of dollars in unearned wages and costing states in lost tax revenue.

Cost of Underemployment in Select States, 2009-2013

State & Local: Cost of Underemployment in Select States, 2009-2013

Immigrants w/ Bachelor’s or More
Underemployed Immigrants
Foregone Annual Earnings
Foregone State & Local Taxes

Opportunity: Connecting Educated Immigrants with Opportunities

There are several initiatives around the country that work to close the gap between educated immigrants and the jobs that they are qualified to fill. From professional connector programs in St. Louis, Detroit, and Louisville to state and national efforts like Upwardly Global’s work to connect high-skilled immigrants in Michigan and across the country to job opportunities in their field, these programs offer training in cultural competency for the U.S. labor market and access to a network of professional opportunities in their field.

Issue: Demand for Bilingual Workers

Millions of English-speaking students speak an additional language at home or are learning a world language in school, making them attractive candidates for employers seeking to boost their ability to compete in markets outside the United States.

Over the past five years, the demand in the labor market for people who speak more than one language has doubled in the United States.3

  • Georgia: Between 2010 and 2014, online job postings for bilingual candidates nearly doubled, from 2,668 to 4,900 postings.4
  • Massachusetts: In 2015, there were nearly 15,000 online job postings for bilingual workers. Massachusetts-based employers posted 14,561 job openings online in 2015, representing a 159.5 percent increase in the number of online job postings for bilingual workers since 2010.5
  • Maryland: In 2014, jobs for bilingual workers represented at least one in 10 online job postings at some of the state’s top employers. In 2014, jobs for bilingual workers represented more than one in five job postings at Bank of America (41.4 percent) and M&T Bank (28 percent), and more than 10 percent of job postings at AT&T (10.2 percent).6
  • Florida: Nearly every metro area in the state saw the number of online job postings for bilingual workers double between 2010 and 2014, and several saw those numbers triple.7

Opportunity: Seal of Biliteracy

Recognizing the value of having a multilingual workforce to attract business and jobs, 25 states to date have created a Seal of Biliteracy to encourage and formally recognize bilingual talent among U.S.-born and foreign-born students alike.

States: Education & Opportunity

States that succeed in the global economy will be those that invest in the skills and training of their future workforce. This means ensuring that all students, regardless of their background, have an equal shot at higher education.

Issue: In-State Tuition

Many young people who grew up in the United States and graduated from our public schools are required to pay out-of-state tuition in their states of residence. This often means college is financially out of reach, forcing talented immigrant students with skills their states need to seek educational opportunities elsewhere.

Opportunity: Tuition Equity

Every student deserves to pursue higher education, and students who go to college not only benefit from a better education, but are better positioned to contribute to their economies both as consumers and taxpayers. To date, more than 16 states have removed barriers to higher education for talented immigrant students, and many are already reaping the economic benefits.

Key Stat on Tuition Equity

  • In Tennessee, should the state extend in-state tuition to undocumented students, state and federal tax revenues would increase by $3.2M six years after these students graduate.

Local: Inclusivity & Growth

Local government, business, and civic leaders, recognizing the valuable role immigrants play in making communities dynamic, diverse, and attractive to business and talent, are increasingly thinking about how to attract, retain, and integrate immigrants as part of an economic growth strategy. These communities represent a national trend embracing research that shows that being inclusive toward immigrants helps cities and counties grow and succeed.

Issue: Strategic Planning & Immigrant Affairs Offices

Across the country, more and more communities are interested in developing multi-sector strategic plans to make their communities more economically competitive by welcoming and integrating new Americans. These plans often include the creation of a municipal office dedicated to coordinating issues impacting immigrants.

Opportunity: Gateways for Growth

Launched in December 2015, the Gateways for Growth Challenge invited communities across the United States to apply for research, technical assistance, and matching grants from NAE and Welcoming America to support the development and implementation of multi-sector strategic plans for welcoming and integrating new Americans. Twenty selected communities, from Phoenix, Arizona to Anchorage, Alaska, are now actively working to ensure the success of their immigrant communities.

Nationally, there are now 24 cities and counties with government offices dedicated to ensuring immigrants are welcome and able to succeed, seven of which are Gateways for Growth cities.

Key Stats on Gateways for Growth

  • Between 2000 and 2013, immigrants accounted for all net growth in Main Street businesses across the United States.
  • For every 1,000 immigrants settling in a county, 250 U.S.-born individuals follow, drawn by increased economic opportunity.9
  • NAE is working with more than 20 communities around the country to develop strategies to help immigrant communities succeed

Opportunity: Population Growth

The arrival of new Americans has successfully reversed the trend of population decline in cities across the country, helping to revitalize the local economy, create housing wealth and contribute to the tax base.

Key Stats on Population Growth

  • Dayton: From 2009 to 2013, Dayton’s foreign-born population increased by 58.8 percent. Thanks in part to this growth, Dayton’s total population began to reverse its decline in 2013.10
  • Northwest Arkansas: Immigrants accounted for 42 percent of the region’s population growth between 2009 and 2014.11
  • Atlanta: The foreign-born population accounted for nearly two thirds (64.6 percent) of the city’s overall population growth between 2000 and 2012.12

Opportunity: Entrepreneurism

Cities are attracting and retaining immigrant entrepreneurs, who are creating jobs in new industries and making the local economy more competitive.

Key Stats on Entrepreneurism

  • Columbus: While the number of U.S.-born entrepreneurs in the city decreased by 1.2 percent, the number of foreign-born entrepreneurs increased by 41.5 percent.13
  • Houston: Immigrants in the city made up 42.4 percent of its self-employed population in 2014, despite making up just 24.7 percent of the area’s total population.14
  • Anchorage: 1,831 foreign-born people worked for their own businesses, generating in business $37M income in 2014.15

Opportunity: Job Creation

Immigrants are creating and preserving U.S. manufacturing jobs—positions that are a lifeline for many middle-class American towns. For every 1,000 immigrants living in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved that would otherwise not exist or would have moved elsewhere.

Key Stats on Entrepreneurism

  • Salt Lake County: Immigrants helped to create or preserve 6,403 local manufacturing jobs that would have otherwise vanished or moved elsewhere.16
  • Allegheny County: Because of the role immigrants play in the workforce helping companies keep jobs on U.S. soil, immigrants helped create or preserve 2,893 local manufacturing jobs that would have otherwise vanished or moved elsewhere.17
  • Des Moines: There are 11,441 international students graduating with a bachelor’s degree or higher from a four-year university in Iowa. Attracting or retaining just half of these students in metro Des Moines would increase the workforce candidate pool and expand the consumer base, creating 2,449 local jobs in six years.18

Explore More State & Local Resources

  1. Visit the Gateways for Growth Map to see how cities approach immigrant integration.
  2. Visit Map the Impact to see how immigrants are affecting your state and district.
  3. Visit the Reason for Reform Campaign to record a video in support of immigration reform.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…