Cincinnati Start-up Community Talks Immigration

Panel touts Cincinnati’s successes, but cautions D.C. inaction will hinder continued growth

CINCINNATI, OHIO – Influential members of Cincinnati’s vibrant start-up and tech scene joined together this morning at one of the country’s hottest seed accelerators, The Brandery in Over-the-Rhine for a fast-paced roundtable discussion on global talent attraction and the need for immigration reform.

“When we were approached by the Partnership for a New American Economy & the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber and Agenda 360, we jumped at the chance to host,” said Rob McDonald, Co-Founder of the tenth ranked accelerator in the U.S.  “This is worthwhile discussion. We have a number of immensely talented innovators at this facility.  It’s critical we are welcoming the world’s top technologists, engineers, venture capitalists, angel investors, and entrepreneurs if we want to compete with the other top advanced economies.  You do see some troubling signs.”

The latest round of applications for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers exceeded the annual limit within a week. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that 172,500 H-1B petitions were filed for 85,000 visas, the highest number ever recorded for H-1B demand.

“It’s really baffling to me that we are educating the brightest minds from around the world at our universities, but we make it virtually impossible for them to stay and contribute to our economy,” said Grant Schaffner, a South African immigrant, UC engineering professor, and President of a start-up called Protostar Engineering. “Some of my best students simply become frustrated and go back home.  These people would be a huge boon to our economy if they stayed.”

At the end of January, U.S. House Republican leadership released standards for immigration reform, which included: border security and enforcements, entry-exit visa tracking, employer verification & workplace enforcement, reforms to the legal immigration system, the legal status of children brought to the U.S. by their parents.

“Immigration is a top federal agenda item for us,” said Brooks Parker, Chair of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Education & Workforce Committee.  “It’s crucial for our business ecosystem that includes everything from large Fortune 500 companies to fast-growing start-ups.  We need talent and capital and we’re hoping for action on this from Congress in 2014.”

Cincinnati is one of just nine cities around the country — and the only one in the TriState — to host an #iCodeImmigration event with the Partnership for a New American Economy and, two prominent pro-immigration reform groups.

“To be selected to host an event like this says to me that Cincinnati is right up there with the other great American innovation capitals like New York, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Boulder, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC,” said Geoff Smith of the CIO Roundtable.  “For Cincinnati to compete with say, Berlin or Shanghai, we need our lawmakers in Washington to allow more highly-skilled immigrants to come to this country.  We need a streamlined process for foreign entrepreneurs to come and grow jobs here as well.”

Local hosts of the event included the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber, Agenda 360, CincyTech and The Brandery. #iCodeImmigration is part of the #iAmImmigration campaign to engage sectors across the economy and push for reform this year.

“The Chamber has actively advocated for immigration reform.  Our members have made a great impact on the discussion with the federal delegation,” said Brian Carley, President and CEO of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. “We encourage them to act on reform this year.”

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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…