Hem Bahadur Bista and his family arrived in Akron in 2008 after struggling for years in a refugee camp in Nepal, where they had no electricity or even a decent roof for shelter from the rain.
The Bhutanese immigrant has thrived in his new home, finding a job as a residential assistant, opening the Bista Brothers Groceries store and buying a house in Norton.
“It’s very good,” Bista said about his experience while standing inside his Asian grocery store in the city’s North Hill neighborhood. “Many opportunities here.”
While he and his family certainly have benefited from coming to America, Akron also is reaping the benefits of immigrants such as Bista, new research shows.
Immigration is helping the region grow its population, especially among young adults, and increasing the local economy and housing market, two reports say.
“People look at immigrants as people who are taking when the reality is that they are people who are giving,” said Elaine Woloshyn, executive director of the International Institute of Akron, which helps immigrants settle and adapt to living here.
The Akron metropolitan area — Summit and Portage counties — owes much of its population gain between 2000 and 2010 to immigration.
The region gained 9,415 people in that decade, with more than 54 percent of the growth due to immigration, according to the report Growing the Heartland: How Immigrants Offset Population Decline and an Aging Workforce in Midwest Metropolitan Cities.
The report, done for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, notes that only nine communities in the Midwest could attribute most or all of their population gain over that time to immigration.
In addition to Akron, that list includes Chicago; Lansing, Mich.; St. Joseph, Minn.; and Davenport, Iowa.
“That should be pretty striking for people in your area to realize,” report author Rob Paral said.
The report doesn’t say where the immigrants are coming from. But the International Institute notes that many of Akron’s immigrants are arriving from such countries as Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Syria and India.
Overall in the Midwest, immigration accounted for 38.4 percent of all growth in metropolitan areas, Paral concluded.
This comes at the same time that the Midwest’s share of the national population is shrinking.
The immigration also is helping offset a decline in native-born people ages 35 to 44 who are moving out of the Midwest.
That population group fell 1.4 million over the past decade, but 265,976 immigrants in that age group moved in, the report says.
In Summit County, the immigrant population rose 17 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to the latest statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.
That helped offset a 1 percent population decline among native-born people.
The immigrants are attracted to the Akron area because of the quality of life, including good schools and reasonably priced housing, Woloshyn said.
Economic, housing gains
Meanwhile, the report Immigration and the Revival of American Cities says immigration is preserving manufacturing jobs and boosting housing values in Summit County.
It attributes $577 in individual housing value and 1,045 manufacturing jobs to immigration.
The report, done for the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Partnership for a New American Economy, estimates that for every 1,000 immigrants in a county, 46 manufacturing jobs are created or preserved.
It also said immigrants often end up living in areas where housing would decline without them.