As changes to the United States’ immigration policy are being debated on Capitol Hill, a group of Cincinnati startup and tech luminaries, business leaders and economic development forces met at the Brandery on Wednesday morning to explain why the topic is important locally.
Brandery co-founder Rob McDonald said the startup accelerator is currently accepting applications for its class of 2014, and many of those applications come from outside of the U.S.
“Immigration is a particularly important issue for us because when we’re looking at applications from over 40 countries we need to be able to determine whether or not these companies coming to Cincinnati are going to be able to stay in the U.S.,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense for us to recruit a company that’s going stay for 90 days on a tourist visa then fly back to Israel or Singapore or wherever they’re from. This time of year it becomes a very relevant issue because we see really wonderful companies that we want to bring to Cincinnati that we think will be a strong fit that will create jobs for local folks, but unfortunately we can’t keep them.”
That’s not to say the Brandery will reject an applicant if they don’t know how they’ll stay stateside. One of its best success stories – Roadtrippers – was started by a British national who married an American citizen and was able to stay in the country.
“The only real solution is to come up with a marriage or wedding service, so if you can help us recruit brides, we’d welcome that,” McDonald joked.
Startups aren’t the only ones looking for ways to keep talented foreign nationals in the region.
“We’ve got a graying, aging scientific community and engineers. That’s part of the problem,” Partnership for a New American Economy spokesman Tyler Glick said. “We’ve got to replace some of these folks and get new talent in the pipeline, and that’s going to come a lot from foreign nationals. Those folks are major innovators.”
Allowing more highly skilled foreign nationals to come and stay in the region will also help fill the massive local shortage in tech talent, CIO Roundtable Chairman Geoff Smith said. The CIO Roundtable is made up of 28 chief information officers and top executives from regional companies and institutions. Its goal is to increase the pool of IT talent in the region with the hope of growing the tech economy.
Smith estimated between 1,000 and 3,000 IT openings in the Greater Cincinnati area, yet major education institutions are only producing about 500 IT grads each year.