Sustainability Chief Sees Immigration as a Way to Revitalize American Cities

On a recent trade mission to the Canary Islands, Todd Adams was reminded of how valuable a diverse workforce can be. As the chief of sustainability and innovation at Visibility Marketing, a Cleveland-based company that offers management solutions and strategic planning for companies in the clean energy sector, Adams had traveled to the Spanish archipelago to scout international partnerships. In addition to “B-to-B” companies of roughly 300-500 people, Visibility Marketing partners with government agencies like Ohio’s Department of Health, its Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Now the company, with the support of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was looking to attract international business.

We’re really a global economy, so we need to understand the nuances of doing business with people from other cultures.

This was Adams’ first trip to the Canary Islands, and the Spanish archipelago was unfamiliar to him. Luckily, he had a guide: a young Spaniard named Daniel Fumero, whom Adams had brought to Cleveland on a temporary work-study visa.

“We’re really a global economy, so we need to understand the nuances of doing business with people from other cultures,” says Adams. “In the Canary Islands, you get to know people and connect with them and drink wine. It’s not as direct as it is in the U.S.” For this reason, Fumero’s linguistic and cultural fluency proved invaluable. “Daniel is teaching us about cultural competency,” Adams says. “It goes a long way in terms of him making a contribution.”

Adams sees Fumero as a symbol of how diversity can fuel economic growth. But he worries that when a young man like Fumero returns home, he won’t want to return—at least not to Cleveland. “It’s a lot easier to drop into Chicago or Houston and have an international experience,” Adams explains. In Cleveland, people “don’t blend.”

Companies invest in cities where they see themselves represented.

And this is why Adams believes in immigration reform. Immigrants can help reverse the population and economic declines in Rust Belt cities. To achieve this, though, the United States must make itself—and its struggling cities—attractive to newcomers. The country, Adams says, must be “deliberate about attracting self-seeking risk takers.” This means streamlining our immigration policy nationally but also encouraging cities like Cleveland to create more welcoming environments, so that smart, young internationals like Fumero will chose to move there.

Cleveland, he says, would do well to take nearby Columbus as an example. “They’ve recently welcomed Somali refugees,” he says. “They’ve revitalized a stagnant community,” Adams says. As evidence, he points to a 2015 study commissioned by the City of Columbus; the study showed that central Ohio’s refugees currently pump $1.6 billion into the economy. “Unlike my hometown of Cleveland, Columbus benefits from secondary migration and more overall inclusion.”

When Adams meets with international CEOs on trade missions, like the one in the Canary Islands, he often thinks about whether such business leaders would want to bring their companies to the United States. His conclusion: “Companies invest in cities where they see themselves represented.”

It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, to be sure. But “everything big starts out small,” Adams says. “There’s a reason why certain cities are gateway cities and others look the same way they have for 150 years.”

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…