Lincoln Journal Star Opinion: Immigrants help Crete economy thrive

By Nancy Tellez

Believe it or not, Crete — population 7,059 — is a leading example of how Nebraska is creating thriving, diverse communities and embracing newcomers.

In 2016, Crete City Administrator Tom Ourada created the job position that I currently hold: community assistance director. He’d attended the National Immigrant Integration Conference and realized that Crete’s foreign-born population faced the same issues as in larger American cities like Lincoln. How could newcomers start their own businesses and become homeowners? How could international students feel valued, accepted, and embraced in city schools? And so Mayor Roger Foster appointed Dulce Castaneda to develop programs and initiatives that helped immigrants put down roots here. He has been very receptive and supportive.

In 2018, we are collaborating with the public-private Bridges to Care initiative, which is funded by the Susan G. Komen Foundation and sponsored by Blue Valley Community Action and partners with Crete Area Medical Hospital and Public Health Solutions, to raise awareness around breast cancer and breast health in immigrant communities. We’ve hosted homebuyers seminars for immigrants that bring together banks, local Realtors and community members.

And next year, we’re hoping to bring a cultural showcase to the Saline County Fair and Parade, to celebrate the Czech and German heritage of elderly area residents and the African, Mexican, Caribbean and Central American heritage of younger newcomers. After all, most Americans can trace their lineage back to countries other than this one.

Of course, what’s happening here in Crete is part of a larger outreach effort. Lincoln just received a perfect Government Leadership score in New American Economy’s Cities Index, a tool that measures how effectively the largest 100 U.S. cities are integrating immigrants. Specifically, Lincoln’s score demonstrates the municipal government’s commitment to representing, recruiting and supporting the city’s immigrants.

There, the longstanding New Americans Task Force has existed for decades, evolving as the population has changed over time. This network of roughly 40 public and private organizations and community members supports New Americans in Nebraska communities by holding regular meetings geared toward combating discrimination and promoting inclusiveness. Members include the African Multicultural Center, Asian Community and Cultural Center, Center for People in Need, City Commission on Human Rights, the city health department, El Centro de Las Americas, Faces of the Middle East, Nebraska Appleseed, State Refugee Resettlement Program, Sudanese Community Resource Center and more.

“We can provide the tools for employment, for providing healthy families, and for obtaining an education,” the NATF website states. “And most importantly — we do it together.”

That’s exactly what we do here in Crete on a hyper-local scale. We’ve helped foreign-born entrepreneurs secure micro-business loans and worked with the Rural Enterprise Assistance Program and Cleaning Academy to help them launch new cleaning companies. These efforts have already proven their meaningful impact on Crete’s financial health.

As the immigrant population has grown, so has the number of small businesses and the city’s net taxable sales. And even though immigrants represent a minority of Nebraska’s population, they make an outsize contribution to our economy, in part because they fill the grueling processing jobs that many big employers, like our meat-packaging plants, otherwise struggle to fill.

“A lot of (Hispanic and Latino immigrants) are young people looking for work here with the factories, and the industries we have are conducive to entry-level work,” Crete Police Department Lt. Gary Young recently told a Doane University publication. “In that manner, (immigration) has actually helped the Crete economy.”

There’s no doubt that immigrants here in Nebraska revitalize our economy, contribute to our school systems, and enrich the lives of other residents. And to celebrate Welcome Week — a series of festivities and cultural events celebrating immigrants in Crete — this spring, we’re proud to share what we’ve learned and what’s helped our town flourish.

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…